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Wednesday, October 11, 2006
TMQ Nation fires back

By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2

Yesterday, Tuesday Morning Quarterback razzed the NCAA for demanding that William & Mary remove two feathers from its athletic logo -- a demand that seems like a "Saturday Night Live" satire of political correctness. A few hours after the column was posted, William & Mary announced it was giving up and would take off the feathers. Further resistance would require suing the NCAA, and the college said it cannot justify spending parents' money on the matter -- especially since the NCAA, backed by the deep pockets of the football factories, seems willing to invest substantial resources to get its way. As Daphne Cooper of Bluffton, S.C. notes, "William & Mary thinks money is best used for education, while the NCAA thinks money is best used to increase its financial control over what was once amateur collegiate sports." The NCAA ruled that Florida State may keep the Indian-themed feather on its helmet, and the University of Utah may keep its Utes nickname and two-feathers logo -- yet is adamant the feathers come off William & Mary's helmets. But then, Florida State and Utah football are money machines. Nathan Verilla of Richmond, Va. puts it, "The NCAA's efforts to police Native American nicknames and logos is a sham. It has nothing to do with the actual nicknames or logos and everything to do with which schools bring in the money. Never mind that the majority of Native Americans don't really care about Native American imagery in sports and that the groups working to alter sports images should better spend their time on the real problems facing Native Americans today -- alcoholism, suicide, unemployment, lack of political power. If the NCAA was serious about removing Native American imagery from their member schools, it would have forced every college with such imagery to change their nicknames and logos, instead of caving to the football factories while bullying small schools like William & Mary."

William & Mary, Utah logos
Do you see much difference?
Even by the standards of the NCAA, an organization that has made its name synonymous with double standards, the campaign against William & Mary's feathers seems a fool's errand. My guess is the NCAA wanted to claim it was taking dramatic action about Indian imagery, but was afraid to pick on big-money schools, so picked on the little guy. Great job of setting an example, Myles Brand! Also, William & Mary perennially embarrasses the NCAA by playing in Division I and graduating almost all scholarship athletes -- 98 percent of the school's Division I-AA football players graduated in the latest stats. Florida State by contrast does an atrocious job, graduating just 52 percent of its football scholarship holders. Florida State treats education for football players as a big joke, and the NCAA lavishes special favors on that school; whereas graduate your athletes and the NCAA will punish you! Gene Nichol, president of William and Mary, said yesterday, "It is galling that a university with such a consistent and compelling record of doing intercollegiate athletics the right way is threatened with punishment by an organization whose own house, simply put, is not in order." My suggestion to William & Mary faithful: Start wearing feathers to games.

Norman Carmichael of Columbus, Ohio writes, "How could you not comment on Joe Gibbs punting on fourth-and-6 from the Jersey/A 37, trailing 6-3? Or ordering a field goal attempt from the Jersey/A 23 on fourth-and-1, when trailing 16-3?" Worse, the field goal attempt was by John Hall, a kicker who's been struggling and who yesterday was placed on IR. Even had the figgie succeeded, the Skins would have trailed by two scores. Outraged, the football gods pushed the kick wide.

Describing last Saturday's many Wisconsin-on-Wisconsin games in the state's public university system, I called them "interstate" pairings. Many cheese-wise readers including Jenny Ritchey of Madison, Wisc. noted "intrastate" is correct. Jon Allison of Chicago writes, "The column and the reader feedback are perfect for the rush-hour ride home on the El from downtown Chicago. I've been trying to think of a decent nickname for Rex Grossman, now that he's helped turn the Bears into an offensive force. Here it is: Score-a-saurus Rex." Roman Picheta of Warsaw, Poland notes the Polish American Football Association recently had its inaugural game, as the Warsaw Eagles faced the Wielkopolska Fireballs in Lodz.

I wrote that excessive attention to high school football might start that wonderful sport down the path to ruin. Jessica Lopez of Albuquerque, N.M. reminds, "Shoe companies have already shown they don't care about education as they tempt high schoolers to skip college by offering huge shoe deals up front. Why would anybody want to learn about sociology or biology when they can make millions of dollars for wearing a shoe?" I cited the new show "Friday Night Lights", a well-made if puzzling show -- more on that soon -- as an example of the rising profile of high school football. Matt Keeling of Falmouth, Mass. countered, "In the early 1980s one of my all-time favorite shows, 'The White Shadow,' premiered on TV. It was about an ex-NBA player coaching a bunch of misfit, multi-ethnic high school students and was a huge hit. Yet it didn't lead to the ever expanding media coverage of high school basketball players. The players didn't get involved with agents, drug dealers, shoe companies and underage groupies. NBA teams didn't begin to recruit younger and younger players based on potential instead of performance, and in the process degrade the integrity and level of play in what was once the most exciting pro sports league. No sir, none of those things happened." TMQ also said that one of the great aspects of high school football is that parking is free. Sal Capaccio of Englewood, Fla., a high school football coach, counters that in most of Florida, high schools charge $3 for parking during games.

TMQ asked why the referee didn't use the "travesty" rule to stop the West Virginia high school that went no-huddle throughout the second half in order to run up the score to 64-0. Vince Blanchard of Hawkesbury, Ontario writes, "As a basketball official I have often encountered coaches who insist on trying to run up the score on weaker opposition by using a full-court press when well ahead late in the game. When this happens any good official will put a stop to it by calling the slightest contact a foul. This gives the losing team opportunities for free throws, producing the opposite of the desired result and a quick stop to the tactics. Sometimes an aside to the coach to 'take your press off' is all that is needed." Meanwhile Marcus Cooper of Denver notes you can use the guestbook of Matewan High School, the school that pulled the no-huddle stunt, to register your view of its notion of sportsmanship. Take a look-see at the prevailing opinion. Matewan High: Has it occurred to you that the dignified thing would be to issue an apology?

Ham
There's our boy Ham.
I called Yuri Gagarin "the first member of the genus Homo" to reach space. Dan Drew of Trumbull, Conn. points out that a few months before Gagarin's 1961 flight, Ham the chimpanzee soared into space aboard a U.S. rocket. Ham, he contends, was "the first member of the genus Homo" to leave our little rock. Taxonomists traditionally place chimps into genus Pan, but recent research showing human and chimpanzee DNA is 99.4 percent alike eventually will lead to chimps entering the human genus, Drew thinks. Ham was trained to pull levers in response to flashing lights and did so throughout his flight, establishing that space travel would not render astronauts incapable of operating controls. Pulling levers in response to flashing lights -- sounds like your office, doesn't it?

Peter Kilkelly of Waterville, Maine writes, "As further evidence of your theory about the amount of clothing worn by a team's cheerleaders helping determine who wins the game, check out the New England Patriots' page comparing what their cheerleaders wore for the Denver game, a loss, and the Buffalo game, a victory." Risa Balayem of Detroit, an official at Ford Field, wrote, "Just wanted to let you know that the MAC games will return to ESPN on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in November." The Toledo Rockets play three consecutive Tuesday nights on ESPN that month. Let the Tuesday and Wednesday night games begin!

On science fiction shows saving money by having the aliens take human form -- on "Battlestar Galactica," of all possible choices, the evil Cylon living robots by the strangest coincidence decided to make themselves look exactly like people -- Nicole Rejiester points out, "In the original 1960s 'Star Trek,' the Klingons looked like nothing more than slightly wrinkly humans. It wasn't until Star Trek movies, with higher budgets, that Klingons took on an alien appearance." Paul Poage of Portland, Oregon adds that in the old television miniseries "V," the aliens also by the strangest and most amazing coincidence had taken on the appearance of people.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback supposed that the safest off-price generic prediction would be annually to predict that all teams would finish with the same record as the season before. Eric DeGroot of Appleton, Wisc. conducted an incredibly scientifically advanced analysis of this conjecture: "I analyzed the last 20 years of records in the NFL to test your theory. I looked at exact match in records and a one game difference in record from the previous year. Here are my findings: Best results for predicting the same records -- 6-24 predicting the 1998 season based on 1997 records. Worst results for predicting the same records -- 0-32 predicting the 2005 season based on 2004 records. Best record for predicting within one game -- 15-15 predicting the 1996 season based on 1995 records. Worst record for predicting within one game -- 4-28 predicting the 2005 season based on 2004 records. Seven teams have never had the same record two years in a row in the last 20 years: Jets, Giants, Ravens, Texans, Panthers, Rams and Lions. In the last 20 years the Packers have had the same record back-to-back five times." OK, so next year I will predict that Green Bay will have the same record as in 2006, while the Jets, Giants, Ravens, Texans, Panthers, Rams and Lions will not.

Rafae Khan of Montpelier, Vt. notes, "A lot was made of the Manning Bowl, but that is only one of five games the Giants play this year that involves brother vs. brother. There are Peyton versus Eli Manning, Tim Hasselbeck versus Matt Hasselbeck, Sinorice Moss versus Santana Moss (twice) and Tiki Barber versus Ronde Barber. That has to be some kind of record." Peter Laub of Columbus, Ohio notes that in Bob Woodward's new "State of Denial" -- you're forgiven if you have not yet plowed through all 560 pages -- Col. Steve Rotkoff, a military intelligence officer, is quoted as having written a haiku about Donald Rumsfeld. Here it is from the book, bowdlerized:

Rumsfeld is a d---.
Won't flow the forces we need:
We will be too light.

Donald Rumsfeld
Rummy looks kinda crummy.
Be sure to read this piece by Jacob Weisberg of Slate, who analyzes the changing portrayal of the defense secretary in Woodward's three books about the George W. Bush presidency. In the first book, Weisberg shows, Woodward presented Rumsfeld as an awesome titan striding across the landscape; in the second, as a fabulous manager; in the third, as an incompetent idiot. Did Rumsfeld really change from mastermind to dolt in five years? Weisberg thinks he's been the same all along. What changed, Weisberg supposes, is that Rumsfeld gave Woodward extensive access to Pentagon corridors of power for the first book; talked to him somewhat for the second; froze him out for the third. Woodward has an established pattern of heaping fawning praise on those who make him feel important, while slamming those who don't. Rumsfeld ought to know this about Woodward. So the fact that the defense secretary wouldn't cozy up for the most recent book is another indicator Rumsfeld is out of touch.

Karen Locascio of Boston complains of my saying the Jets played a game at The Meadowlands: "The Meadowlands complex is made up of three separate facilities: Giants Stadium, Continental Airlines Arena and Meadowlands Racetrack. When the Jets play at the Meadowlands complex, they are in Giants Stadium. There's technically no such thing as Meadowlands Stadium." May it please the court, I introduce into evidence the league's official Game Book from the Jets' home opener, which refers to the stadium as The Meadowlands. The league calls the place Giants Stadium when Jersey/A plays there and The Meadowlands when Jersey/B performs. With the Jets and Giants negotiating details of the new facility to be built in the same place, my understanding is that a sticking point is Jersey/B's insistence it be called Jets Stadium when they are performing. The alternative would be to sell a corporate name for both teams and have the facility always called YouTube Field at Google Pointe or something.

Finally, Alan Higgins of Nashville, Tenn. writes, "I am a plebe at the United States Naval Academy and have found your column very helpful. Every morning the plebes have chow calls. For these chow calls we must have memorized a number of things, including three articles from national news, international news and sports. I have just started to read Tuesday Morning Quarterback and enjoy the fact that it contains so much information I can do an entire week on one column alone. From a grateful plebe to you, thank you and keep them coming."

In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse," and other books. He is also a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. Sound off to Page 2 here.