Soothing the Beast

Just in case it hasn’t been made clear that the mainstream sports media will bow down lower to the SEC than even Obama will to an Arab tyrant, here is today’s column from Ivan Maisel, who by writing this has most likely assured himself not only a cleaner email inbox (a goal of every columnist), but also safe passage throughout the geographic South for the rest of the fall.*

In other words, the virgin has been sacrificed and Kong has taken his reward!  Maisel is an excellent writer for whom I have great respect and he’s a class act with whom I usually agree, but I have to take issue with this column. 

Some highlights of the piece, which hit all the talking points needed to satiate the rabid ESS–EEE–SEE fan:

There are plenty of other statistics and ratings by which to calibrate the primacy of the SEC

“In this league, there are legitimately 10 teams, maybe more, that can be Top 25 teams,” (Tennesee linebacker coach Lance) Thompson said.

MAYBE MORE!  So, for now, who are the unlucky two?  Vandy and Ole Miss?  I guess the pollsters are missing the boat on Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi State, who are all CLEARLY being screwed by not being ranked at this point.  Too bad a less self-serving quote couldn’t have been found.

Since 2006, the SEC has played 38 conference games in which both teams were ranked.

That’s very impressive, to be sure.  But it’d be nice to know what the numbers are for other conferences so we can compare.  Is this significantly more than other conferences?  A bit more?  A bit less?  Why the 2006 benchmark?  And can’t we all acknowledge that if the SEC is given better treatment by the media (see this fawning column as an example), it’s going to end up with better rankings, too?  After all, who votes in the polls?  The media.

Above all, however, is the simple fact that the SEC has more big, fast players than the other leagues.

If it’s a ‘simple fact’, how come we never get any quantifiable numbers on this?  I’m not saying it’s not necessarily true, but I just don’t think it’s verifiable.  Any truism like this should be easily researchable before being deemed such.

“There’s a reason,” Thompson said, “the TV contract is as big as it is. There’s a reason that there is 98 percent occupancy in very big stadiums.”

Well, sure.  The fans love the product. That’s not in question.  But that has nothing to do with the quality of football in the conference.  The fans show up in droves to see whatever product is put in front of them, which means that even Alabama’s game vs. patsy San Jose State drew 102,000–or exactly the same as the Tide drew for its game against traditional power Penn State.  That hardly shows a discerning level of fan interest.  In short, the people down South love the sport and are great fans, but that doesn’t mean the conference, by extension, plays better football because of it.

Look.  I think the SEC is the best conference in college football right now.  I think it has the best combination of coaching and talent of any league.  This type of compliment, of course, is never enough for the average SEC fan, who the media has determined must be coddled with over-the-top columns such as this. 

But I don’t think it’s right to sit here and pretend going in that no other conference should even be considered the SEC’s equal—not until the games are played, at least.  The default mentality when a season starts should not be that the SEC is the best due to these vauge notions regarding team speed and fan intensity.  The default should be:  We think this conference is loaded with great players and coaches, but let’s see if the teams turn out to be good or not compared to other teams.    What’s wrong with that?

Everyone cries about how the BCS is unfair and how a playoff is needed.  But in a sport where the champion is determined by subjective voters, the No. 1 issue out there right now should be the slathering bias accorded to one conference over all others.  The process is tainted, but not by computers or formulas, but actual coverage of the sport.  And this hurts college football.  It’s not even debatable.  There is a liberal media bias when it comes to politics–research by the Pew Center over the years has confirmed that–and there is an SEC bias when it comes to college football.  We see all kinds of subjects covered on Outside the Lines and Real Sports and various other sports media panels, but never this one.  And this is an issue that affects things like rankings and BCS titles–the very things used in the media to justify the bias in the first place.

So why the bias?  Ratings, mostly.  The media knows where its bread is buttered and in this rough economic climate, you do your best to satisfy your most loyal customers.  It’s not supposed to be that way, but it is.  Every editor, columnist or blogger out there knows that if you want to get a bunch of reads, write about and feature the SEC.  But when economic concerns are governing coverage–and when audience placation is the goal–it’s difficult to produce a fair account of what’s actually happening. 

Some of you probably disagree.  Some of you probably agree and don’t care. 

For the sake of the rest of you, I hope things change soon.

* – Calm down, I mostly kid.  But if you think I’m being alarmist about the way the media views such things, the latest edition of ESPN The Magazine mentions an AP voter who worries that his vote being made public could potentially make him a target of angry SEC fans.  I think that’s a horrible way to view the good people of that region, but it does illustrate the thought process that goes into how some subjects are covered…Elite media tends to view the South as a dangerous backwater…in their mind, why piss people off when you might have to cover a game there?  Better to soothe the beast.

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34 Responses to Soothing the Beast

  1. Anonymous September 22, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    From politics to conspiracy theories, this “article” is particularly heavy on the HP crazy-speak. Seems to me if you question Maisel’s numbers and impugn his integrity you’d at least have the decency to back it up with facts. Apparently you can’t even be bothered to look up the Pac 10 numbers that might support your case. But it’s quite clear you don’t report, you just distort.

  2. Heismanpundit September 22, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    He wrote the column, so the onus is on him to provide the support for his statements.

    I have no problem with the idea that the SEC is the best conference. I actually believe it is. Just don’t justify it with such thin gruel.

  3. Anonymous September 22, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    You just wrote a column suggesting Maisel is bowing down to the SEC out of fear. Your basis? A single AP voter has speculated about what he fears MIGHT happen if he doesn’t remain anonymous.

    You want to whine that Maisel hasn’t provided enough evidence? Then don’t do a counterpoint article that provides none. So where’s the data suggesting Maisel is “soothing the beast”?

    Now’s your cue to pass the buck yet again.

  4. Heismanpundit September 22, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    The basis is the over-the-top fawning in the article, plus my knowledge of members of the media.

    If you are going to write a column stating how good the SEC is, you don’t quote an SEC coach claiming that more than 10 teams should be ranked. That’s weak.

  5. Heismanpundit September 22, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    By the way, ESPN has a whole slew of researchers in their employ. So why give a partial stat about games between ranked teams without comparing it to other conferences? This does not allay concerns about bias by any means.

    Don’t worry, I get it though: I’ll mark you down for “Acknowledge Bias (as shown by your lack of addressing the subject), Don’t Care.”

  6. JMB September 22, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

    So if Tennessee is theoretically a Top-25 team, does that make Oregon’s 48-13 road smackdown of the them most impressive win this year?

  7. Anonymous September 22, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

    Still can’t come up with a shred of data to support your accusations? Since you completely whiffed, let’s hold your hand and look at the data.

    First you suggest the polls are biased in favor of the SEC to explain away the 38 games between ranked opponents. So let’s see how many SEC teams in Sagarin’s end-of-the year top 25 have played each other since 2006. That number is 55. That’s 17 more games than the polls you claim favor the SEC. If there’s bias in the polls it sure looks like it works against the SEC.

    But how does the SEC’s 55 games compare to the Pac 10 over the same period? The mighty Pac 10 has a total of 18 games between ranked opponents. That’s less than 1/3 the SEC total!

    Now you can go back to whining about things you’re too lazy to research.

  8. HP September 22, 2010 at 6:35 pm #

    What are my accusations? It’s that the media is biased in favor of the SEC. Period.

    That’s self evident and reflected by this column and a myriad of others.

    I don’t try to explain away the 38 ranked teams playing each other. Far from it. I ask for the writer to provide context, since he is the one who brought it up. You use a final Sagarin poll, but we don’t know if the writer is using teams ranked at the time they played or teams ranked at season’s end. It’s not clear, is it?

    Further, if I am claiming that rankings themselves are biased and favor the SEC, then OF COURSE there are going to be more ranked SEC teams playing each other. I just want to know what to compare it to.

    If you say that you as Anonymous have wasted 57 minutes of my time and that this proves you are the biggest waste of time in the world, I would ask you for another waste of time to compare it to. That’s all. Or, I can just take your word for it. I’m very flexible.

    As for not providing data as counterpoint for an argument, maybe you are right. I have no data to counter the argument that at least 10, and maybe more, SEC teams should be ranked in the top 25. Only my derision.

    But since you clearly believe that, too, I’ll try to save more of that derision for you.

  9. Derek September 22, 2010 at 8:09 pm #

    For fairness, you should post the pictures of Bush walking hand-in-hand with that same Arab tyrant.

    Talk about not presenting both sides of an issue! You’re as guilty as Maisal.

    • Heismanpundit September 23, 2010 at 2:18 am #

      Is there a picture of Bush and the Saudi King walking hand in hand? If so, I’ve never seen it.

      And bowing is a bit different thing, is it not? It implies subservience.

  10. Anonymous September 22, 2010 at 8:17 pm #

    I’ve got to be honest because even as a Gator fan, I read the column and thought, “what is this guy smoking? Why now?”. Besides Bama, which has been dominant so far, the conference overall has been solid for 3 weeks. That’s it. If Ole Miss doesn’t suck (can Nutt only coach as a true underdog?), then maybe I’d say we’ve been good. We’ll see how good we are this year in the next 3 weeks, especially because it’s the toughest stretch of our best team. Did I miss a game last week that one of our poorer teams showed up and beat someone truly, remarkably unexpected? Now I agree the SEC is the best conference year in and year out recently but that doesn’t stem that article in week 3.

  11. AUman76 September 22, 2010 at 9:04 pm #

    Oregon looks good but Stanford looks better. They will control that quack attack. The SEC has been the best conference since the invention of the BCS. We’ve had two teams denided a chance to play for a title so we could have a couple more crystal balls sittin in SEC Trophy Cases. By the way my 2004 AU Tigers were better than your media driven Rubbers.

  12. Dave September 22, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

    A web site that rides the coattails of the ultimate media-hype creation derides media-hype creations. Is this some sort of clever post-modern commentary or simply old-fashioned irony?

    • Heismanpundit September 23, 2010 at 2:23 am #

      I have always said that college football is about debating and hyping, making a case for one player or team or conference over another.

      All I ask is that it be grounded in reality.

  13. Anonymous September 22, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

    HP said: “And can’t we all acknowledge that if the SEC is given better treatment by the media (see this fawning column as an example), it’s going to end up with better rankings, too? After all, who votes in the polls? The media.”

    You clearly suggest the polls favor the SEC because of media bias. But the SEC is under-represented in the media polls relative to the computer polls. Here’s some more data: Since 2006 the SEC had 14 teams in the final AP top 25 and 24 teams in Sagarin. The Pac 10 had 12 in AP and 14 in Sagarin. Once again the data shows the SEC isn’t favored by the media polls and it also shows that the Pac 10 is more fairly represented.

    HP said:
    “I have no data to counter the argument that at least 10, and maybe more, SEC teams SHOULD be ranked in the top 25. Only my derision.”

    Original quote from Coach Thompson: “In this league, there are legitimately 10 teams, maybe more, that CAN be Top 25 teams,”

    You replace the word CAN with the word SHOULD to deliberately distort what the coach said. Then you omit the follow up sentence by Maisel that says only Mississippi St hasn’t been ranked.

    • Heismanpundit September 23, 2010 at 2:37 am #

      In regard to Thompson, it’s irrelevant whether he said COULD or SHOULD, since Maisel uses his statement as a way to backup the notion of SEC superiority.

      The Mississippi State issue? I didn’t hit on it because it had the same problem as the 38 ranked matchup issue–there was no data to compare it to with other conferences.

      But let’s look at it real quick.

      The Pac-10 has had 8 of 10 teams ranked at least two weeks in the last four years. The other two–Washington and WSU–were eached ranked for one week during that time. So, basically, the difference between the conferences in this regard is ONE WEEK’s worth of ranking! WOW!

      The Big Ten has had 9 of 11 teams ranked at least two weeks in the last four years. Purdue and Indiana did not, and Purdue had one week of ranking, so again the gap between the Big Ten and the SEC is ONE WEEK of ranking. WOW!

      Let’s just call that stat about the SEC and MSU what it is: Completely meaningless even before examination (which is why I ridiculed it). But for the pollyannas like yourself, it’s just want you want to hear, isn’t it?

  14. Ed Newman September 23, 2010 at 6:32 am #

    I think it does make a difference to his meaning in whether he said could or should and it was poor or sloppy writing to misquote him. If he says should it means he thinks there are 10 teams that are good enough to be ranked right now; if he says could it means that there are ten teams with good enough talent and coaching to be ranked at some point in the future (maybe this year, maybe in the next two years). The first meaning is patently ridiculous, the second is possibly true.

    Nevertheless your overall point that the other BCS conferences have similar claims of depth based on top 25 rankings over the last four years is well done.

  15. Anonymous September 23, 2010 at 6:36 am #

    8 for 10 (80%) and 9 for 11 (82%) isn’t as good as 11 for 12 (92%)!

    But you totally missed the point. You were the one who highlighted, distorted and omitted so you could ridicule Thompson’s quote as absurd (which it isn’t). Now you completely reverse yourself by saying it’s common place (which it isn’t). Flip-flop.

  16. Anonymous September 23, 2010 at 7:11 am #

  17. Anonymous September 23, 2010 at 7:26 am #

    HP said: “I have always said that college football is about debating and hyping, making a case for one player or team or conference over another.”

    Since that’s what you claim it’s all about… which conference do you think is better than the SEC and where is your supporting data?

  18. slippy September 23, 2010 at 10:26 am #

    Anon, where are your reading comprehension skills?

    From HP’s article:
    “Look. I think the SEC is the best conference in college football right now. I think it has the best combination of coaching and talent of any league.”

  19. HP September 23, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    He has no comprehension skills, reading or otherwise.

    Again, as to Thompson’s quote, it is patently absurd. Let’s look at it on the face of it: He thinks that 10 or more of the SEC teams could be ranked at one point. If he’s talking about this season, he’s stoned, and if he’s talking about the future, you can say the same thing about other conferences as well. How far into the future? Oh, that is never discussed, naturally.

    But tell me what team in the Big East or Pac-10 will never be ranked and why…I’m waiting.

    As far as my opinion on the best conference, you are right. I have ZERO supporting data that supports my contention that the SEC is tops. Maybe I should withdraw that statement.

  20. HP September 23, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    Ed, agree that the second meaning is possibly true. But you could say the same about any other conference, not just the SEC.

    That leads me to believe that the first meaning was his actual intent…and that’s just absurd.

    The worst part of it all was the lack of clarification by the writer so as to support the overall bias of the article in the SEC’s favor.

  21. Dave September 23, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    “All I ask is that it be grounded in reality.”

    Biggest stadiums, highest attendance: check
    Most NFL bodies: check
    Most programs with a track record of generating a Top 25 unit: check

    Ivan’s living in a biased fantasy world. That’s my opinion, for which I will cite nothing other than a highly selective deconstruction of Ivan’s evidence and the intensity of my convictions. Ivan’s bias is apparently self-evident to all non-SEC fans.

    I’m an ACC guy, and I just don’t see the “clear” bias you reference. Tilt? Sure. The same tilt I see when any writers pen pieces on other conferences, or Boise State, or Notre Dame. Conventions of the puff-piece.

    Two more points:
    1) The big media theme of 2008: the offensive dominance of Big 12 South. Punctured spectacularly in bowl season.
    2) The big media theme of 2009: the extraordinary depth of the Pac-10 and its emergence as a competitor to the SEC. Punctured spectacularly during bowl season.

    In other words, it’s not as if the media isn’t trying to find other “pump it up” perspectives. But the other conferences have to deliver their end of the bargain. Want a list of sports scribes muttering into their coffee, “That’s the last time I write anything nice about the ACC or an ACC team for awhile,” right now?

    Final thought: Pac-10 fans love to rip the SEC as overrated. However, I never see them even mention the Big 12, which has far more post-season fails and edges Pac-10 teams for BCS slots more frequently than SEC teams. The Big 12 is almost always cited as a superior conference to the Pac-10, with fewer credentials. Where’s the animosity? Or is something else driving the bus here?

    Lighten up. Wait until they lose a big game or two. Miami beating Nebraska, Alabama beating Miami, Florida beating Ohio State — we tend to forget how “unbeatable” those teams were before they lost and how quickly the spotlight moved on once they did.

  22. Anonymous September 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    Slippy –

    I was drawing into sharper focus the contradiction. HP says the SEC is the best conference but claims folks like Maisel are just biased. Isn’t it possible that Maisel is really speaking the truth and HP is having trouble accepting it?

    HP asserted the media and polls favored the SEC without providing any supporting data. I provided data that strongly suggests the opposite is true. HP did one pathetic attempt at research and concluded 11 for 12 is no better than 8 for 10!

    I’ve repeatedly asked HP to provide evidence or do his own research that suggests Maisel is wrong… but he can’t. HP just has some vague hunch and focuses his effort on questioning the motives of people like Maisel.

    And please don’t tell me HP thinks “Maisel is an excellent writer” and has “great respect for him” because those are just more HP contradictions.


  23. slippy September 23, 2010 at 5:27 pm #

    The fact that this article was written is a media bias. Everyone talks about ‘southern speed’ and all that garbage. Who’s the fastest player in the NFL? I would argue Chris Johnson or Ted Ginn. Guess what conferences they’re from?

    Everyone talks about the great defenses in the SEC. No one bothers to check whether that just means the offenses are bad, or that the defenses really are that good. The NFL might be a good test. 3/18 AFC pro bowlers last year were SEC guys. Miami (FL) had 4 alone. The NFC had 1 SEC guy. Miami alone again out-represented the SEC with 4.

    Now, to be clear, I’m not arguing that they’re not the best. But when all we hear is that they’ve won championships (best teams do not mean best conference) and they have great defenses without facts, that’s a bias.

  24. Floridan September 23, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    Worst . . . post . . . ever.

  25. AUman76 September 23, 2010 at 10:19 pm #

    Hey slippy…how well do those “BAD” SEC offenses do in the Crystal Ball Bowl? Usually against the latest so called, “greatest team ever”? To press the point futher…how well do those world’s greatest offenses from elsewhere fair against SEC defenses that play only poor SEC offenses? Yeah…that’s what I thought! Hard to argue with the results from all six BCS Crystall Ball Bowls the SEC has attended huh? The 2004 AU Tigers went undefeated inthe SEC while USC and Oklahoma won or cheated their way into a “glamour shot” at the NC. The media got it wrong then and still won’t admit thier mistake. But what should one expect from a bunch of self serving ego maniacs. They actually beliece the BS they fabricate these days.
    And HP did mess with quotes in the article.

  26. slippy September 24, 2010 at 7:07 am #

    AUMan, once again, just because one or two teams are great, doesn’t mean they represent the whole conference. Florida has had great offenses. A few other teams have had their years as well.

    MSU has been terrible on offense as long as I can remember. Vandy has been terrible overall. Kentucky had one good offensive year in the past 10. Ole Miss had one decent 6 game stretch since Manning. Tennessee’s offense has been terrible. Bama’s was not very good until the last few years. The Brandon Cox led offenses were terrible.

    The SEC is very top heavy. Their top has been better than anyone else’s top in the past few years.

    Above average defense + below average offense inflates the defense. The Big 12 has been the opposite the past few years…their offenses look great because they’re above average playing below average defenses.

    Look at some of the bowl games last year. Kentucky scored 13. Tennessee 14. LSU 17. Arkansas (supposedly one of the top offenses, and against East Carolina in OT no less) only 20. Mississippi 21. Sure the top 2 did well (but like I said, 2 out of 12 is not a good representative number), and Auburn put up a decent score but against a very mediocre Northwestern team.

  27. slippy September 24, 2010 at 7:08 am #

    I just don’t understand what the big problem is for all you SEC guys. WE ARE ALL ADMITTING IT’S THE BEST. It’s just not perfect (seriously, learn to take some criticism), and gets unfair treatment.

  28. Dave September 24, 2010 at 7:20 am #

    If you check out bowl season stats you will usually find the following trends:

    1) Teams playing SEC schools in bowl games typically do not reach their season averages in points or yards. For example, in 2008, the 8 teams playing SEC schools in bowls averaged something like 12 fewer points than they scored in the regular season. That’s almost two touchdowns.
    2) SEC teams typically score more points in their bowl games than they do in the regular season.

    So – when facing SEC defenses in bowl games, teams typically score less than usual (not always – easy to find an exception or two; we’re talking overall). SEC teams typically score more than usual in bowl games (when not facing SEC defenses).

    Just because you don’t know where to look for the evidence doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    And slippy, any review of NFL rosters will show you which conference has more players in the NFL. That’s a tad more representative than an NFL popularity contest.

    Again, I’m an ACC graduate (UNC). I just find this SEC jealousy stuff amusing.

  29. Ed Newman September 24, 2010 at 9:00 am #


    If you can cite specific evidence of #1 and #2 over the last 4 years or so than I’d say the argument is pretty much over.

  30. AUman76 September 24, 2010 at 10:00 pm #

    four crystall balls in a row and 6 total in 12 years ends the arguement for me. Outside of one year here and there other than USC what pac1 team has done anything on a national level? Oregon looks good against who? Yeah I know they whupped UT but who don’t these days? Thanks to dem good ol boys now at SC they were left in a bad position. But Dooley will change that quicker than even I care to think about. Stanford lloks like the best team out west. They actually play a lil defense and can run at an opponent with success. Some guy on FOX has ND as upsetting the Red Trees cause as he puts it they are better than their record and Stanford won’t be able to handle the pressure. My ass they are. The Arish have played who? Stanford will rip em a new one. Seems to me it’s the golden domers that can’t handle pressure. Oh yeah I almost forgot they beat hawaii in a bowl. Whuppideee fn dooooo! Now there’s a lil prop for a west coast team. Harbaugh is the only pac1 coach that could cut the mustard in the SEC.

  31. Jerel September 30, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

    The fundamental problem you all who attempt to detract from the success of the SEC by bashing on it’s lower quality opponents is that you never reach the top on your own… Sure, in the years Ohio State went to the BCS Championship Game, they were absolutely destroying their opponents. The problem was that when they got to the Championship they had not played enough consistent talent to match-up against the two teams who had.

    You can’t support the top without a bottom.