The new “30 for 30” documentary, Last Days of Knight, gambles on three levels:
It’s being shown exclusively on ESPN+, the company’s new pay service, a good way to draw attention to it but not the best way to get this film the wide audience that many previous 30 for 30 entries have found.
It tells the story of a journalist, CNN’s Robert Abbott, who pursued the story for months. As an Awful Announcing review says, the film attempts to tell Abbott’s story and Knight’s, and it sometimes falls between the two stools.
A lot of people still maintain loyalty to Bobby Knight after all these years.
Others can debate No. 1. The questions here are No. 2 and No. 3, and the disappointment of Last Days of Knight is that we get too much of No. 2 and not enough exploration of No. 3.
Like all 30 for 30 films, LDON is a slick presentation. And the story is compelling, even with the unusual focus on Abbott. CNN’s reporting became part of the story itself, for better or for worse, and you don’t have to be a journalism junkie to appreciate the insights on how everyone involved interacted with the media — Knight as one of several bullies, players and staffers afraid to speak, administrators being weasels, etc. Abbott’s reflections and the nitty-gritty at CNN, including some clumsy threats by people working on Knight’s behalf, provide a new angle to an old story.
But that story bogs down with an extended, guilt-ridden take on the post-scandal life and death of Neil Reed, the player Knight assaulted in a video that hastened his downfall. It’s a sad and yet sweet story of someone who reclaimed his own life and was clearly loved before his untimely death from a heart attack, but its placement in this film is odd, as if it’s suggesting Reed’s death was somehow collateral damage from Knight’s antics and/or the media coverage. Abbott regrets making Reed uncomfortable in his pursuit of the story, but it seems a bit much for him to interpose himself in the family’s mourning process.
And we’re left wanting something more. Abbott and some of his colleagues are seeing the old story in a new light. Anyone else?
Perhaps it’s me — I wrote about irrational mobs in my review of Jesus Christ Superstar — but I really wanted to see some reflection from the people who defended Knight when he was quite clearly indefensible. Knight, predictably, wasn’t interested in participating. But what about the students? Former players? Now that the heat has died down, what would they do differently?
But even if we don’t see such reflection on camera, we have to hope it’s happening elsewhere. It’s not happening in this dismissive review from The Daily Hoosier.
The value of a story like Knight’s is that it holds up a mirror to us. How much are we willing to excuse if a guy wins some basketball games? Can a man impart military-style discipline and behavioral values if he doesn’t live up to it himself or hold himself accountable?
We see hints of these questions in Last Days of Knight. Just not quite enough.
I’ve been trying to learn data science, and inspired by a contest at Kaggle that is waaaay beyond my level of understanding, I’m doing some number-crunching to do a bracket.
Here’s what I did — you can see the full data set at the end.
First: In Google Sheets, I imported several data sets from ESPN, starting with their basic rankings pages listing BPI (their own numbers), strength of schedule (their computation), “strength of record” (which I don’t fully understand) and the official NCAA RPI. I also imported the seven-day ranking change and each team’s seeds.
All that importing put a strain on Google Sheets (only 25 teams per page, and I went through eight pages to get 200 teams’ data, plus a couple more), so I eventually just copied the values within Google Sheets and canceled the importing.
Then I took those numbers and computed the following:
A simple average of each teams BPI, RPI and strength of record, giving me an average of computer rankings.
A rough difference between each team’s computer ranking and seed. Sort of. Generally, the higher the number, the worse the team is for its seed. Only Villanova (1.0 in computer rankings, and I multiplied the seed number because there are multiple #1 seeds) and SMU (14.7 computer rankings, #6 seed) came out with negative numbers (which, in this case, means “good”).
I saved the 7-day change in BPI for a future calculation.
This much was quite easy and didn’t take much time.
Second: This took quite a bit more time. If I knew how to do R programming with all the datasets in Kaggle, maybe it would’ve been easier.
I wanted to see each team’s quality wins. I’ll spare the details, but we’ll say I did a lot of checking of each team’s schedule to come up with what I’m pretty sure are each team’s six best wins, ranking “best” in order of their computer ranking average.
Some teams, all from major conferences, had a few more quality wins that I listed to the side but did not factor into the equation. Some teams didn’t even beat six teams in top 200, so I added a dummy “xx” team with a figure of 250.
Then the easy part: I took the average of their six best wins.
You can see here that this is why people are high on Duke, even though those of us who suffered through each injury and each Grayson Allen meltdown think they’ve already overachieved by winning the ACC Tournament. Duke has more quality wins than I can possibly list.
I figure this computation helps me emphasize what a team is capable of doing. Yeah, maybe they lost to the 220th-ranked team, but they also beat three in the top 20, so they have the capacity to make a run. The losses are already figured into the computer ranking.
I moved the spreadsheet into Excel at this point to try to make a cool chart. I wasn’t able to make said cool chart. But this gives you an idea of the top 20 teams’ computer ranking and quality win index. (Again, lower is better.)
Third: The Dure Power Index takes the computer average, the quality wins and the seven-day change and puts them in a super-secret formula to spit out … this.
So now that I’ve done all that, I’m going to fill out a bracket using this info. But I still have to do some hunches here and there, mostly to give mid-major schools that haven’t had many opportunities for quality wins a chance to pull some upsets. If I see a 12 seed that looks a little underrated and a 5 seed that looks a little overrated, I’ll go with that.
And no, I’m not picking Duke.
The raw-ish data (I’ve spared you a couple of sheets) is online.
If there’s war between the sexes, then there’ll be no people left — Joe Jackson. (Tori Amos did a terrific cover version.)
I’ve spent too much time on Twitter this week grabbing the third rail. I’ve been in conversations on promotion/relegation, women’s soccer equity, and UConn women’s basketball.
Let’s dispense with the last one first. The “Connecticut is too dominant” issue has reached The Guardian this week, but it’s being fanned by ESPN. You know — the colossus based in Bristol, Conn., founded by people who wanted to watch Connecticut sports.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to point to ESPN’s institutional roots when I’m bringing my own bias to the conversation. I can often toss aside my Duke background — I was disappointed in the way Grayson Allen and Coach K acted as they departed the NCAA Tournament this year, and I’ve been nice and conflicted over the lacrosse saga. But when it comes to women’s basketball, I covered it in the days of drawing a couple hundred people in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and I watched with admiration as Gail Goestenkors built the program into the dominant force in the ACC. My heart still breaks when I think of Kristi Toliver hitting an impossible 3-pointer over the best shot-blocker in women’s basketball to stop Duke from winning the 2006 national title.
So forgive me if one of my better women’s hoops memories involves Jessica Foley taking sweet revenge on Geno Auriemma. The UConn coach had tried to recruit the Australian player, but she opted for Duke instead. Auriemma made some wisecrack about drinking too much Foster’s. Foley got the last laugh.
Does that mean my Duke bias has colored my impression of Auriemma and UConn? Or is just that I have a better memory of him doing things other than winning scads of basketball games?
In any case, I don’t think of him as a latter-day John Wooden. Or Anson Dorrance, who might be accused of having a bit of an ego or competitive streak himself but is always a fascinating interview and gracious to others.
Mike and Mike can tell me UConn is superior because the women work harder in practice. I can counter with first-hand glimpses from other programs of overtrained athletes tearing their ACLs.
Clearly, Auriemma is doing something right. His players love him, and he certainly doesn’t fail to give back to the community with charity work.
But I won’t be watching the Final Four this year. If Dawn Staley, one of the best athletes I’ve ever covered, was leading her terrific South Carolina team against the Huskies, I’d be more inclined to tune in. As a journalist, I’d like to see a good clash of the titans. As a fan, I’d like to see another Jessica Foley moment.
The other big women’s sports topic of the week is women’s soccer pay. I delved into that on the heels of one of the most aggravating promotion/relegation discussions I’ve had in years.
I only mention that because I’ve stumbled into a connection between the two topics. No, I don’t think women’s soccer fans (most of them, anyway) are as delusional as promotion/relegation advocates (most of them, anyway). WoSo fans generally listen, and they appreciate (and argue about) the complexities of the soccer business.
But what’s easily forgotten in both cases can be summed up in one word …
The most zealous pro/rel advocates cherry-pick from history like a corrupt televangelist cherry-picking the Bible. “Oh, see? We had 35,000 people turn up to watch Liverpool play Real Madrid, so obviously, there has always been a huge fan base for soccer in the USA, and the only obstacle to its growth is MLS and its evil NFL owners.”
I’m sure I’m already trusting people’s patience here, so I won’t rehash everything I’ve written about pro/rel. In short, there are legitimate, non-evil reasons why it hasn’t happened in the USA, and while a lot of us (including myself) come up with fun pro/rel schemes, it’s a long way from becoming reality. If you won’t take the word of a journalist who remembers the pre-MLS days and has fought tooth and nail to get mainstream media to take soccer seriously, read Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism. Or Soccer in a Football World. Or talk to the fine folks who’ve poured their hearts and cash into soccer clubs of all sizes across the country. (Not just one guy in San Diego. Talk to a lot of them, especially those who’ve been in the game for decades.)
The fundamental mistake of pro/rel zealots is that they take pro soccer in the USA for granted. They forget what a long, difficult slog it’s been to get things going. It was a risk when MLS launched in 1996, and it was a risk when MLS nearly folded in 2002. It’s still a risk because you can do whatever you want with a U.S. league, and thanks to NBC and the Internet, you can still watch more Premier League coverage here than you can in England. Or Liga MX. Or whatever you like.
At the nadir of 2001/02, MLS had to do something drastic to save the sport. Out of those meetings came Soccer United Marketing.
Which brings us, at last, to the recent flurry of news about women’s soccer and pay equity.
First, read the NY Daily News piece examining the issue. It’s a long read, but it’s worthwhile.
That said, as long as it is, there are plenty of complexities beyond its scope. And so a casual reader can get some false impressions from it. FIFA corruption has little to do with how much revenue the Women’s World Cup generates. (Endemic sexism in FIFA, sure.) No, Soccer United Marketing is not the reason Chuck Blazer had an expensive apartment for his cats. (Not that the piece says so, but the juxtaposition could give you that impression.)
SUM saved MLS. And it helped build MLS to the point at which it can be a legitimate partner for the NWSL.
A more difficult question: How much money is available for women’s soccer? Or should be? Or how much revenue is generated?
The NYDN points out, quite accurately, that it’s hard to quantify the money streams. Everything is bundled — men’s and women’s World Cups, even U.S. national team and domestic league TV rights. Given that, it’s really difficult to come up with conclusions like “Of the $1 billion FIFA doles out in development money every year, only $13 million is earmarked for women’s football.” How much of that money is gender-neutral — say, programs that help men and women? Probably not enough, but we don’t know.
But what we do know is that outside the USA and maybe Canada, the interest in the Women’s World Cup does not compare to the interest in the men’s version. Use any metric you want. How many countries entered. How many people watched.
I covered nine World Cup games in 11 days in Germany, if I remember that whirlwind correctly. Crowds were pretty good. People were excited. It was not the men’s World Cup.
It’s better than it was. Go back to 1995, when the Women’s World Cup was in Sweden. Nigeria vs. Canada. 3-3 thriller. Attendance: 250.
“While we take women’s soccer seriously, everyone else around the world doesn’t,” Alexi Lalas said on Periscope this morning.
Which does not mean women should not or could not be making more. Lalas also said a lot in support of the WNT’s position, and so will I.
But even within the USA, the outlier in which a Women’s World Cup is the media event of the summer, the biggest difference between men’s and women’s World Cup quests is immense. No one’s happy that the U.S. men lost in Guatemala, and even after avenging that defeat a few days later, people are still questioning Jurgen Klinsmann’s job performance. (My favorite: Slate compares Klinsmann’s delusional state with Monty Python’s Black Knight.)
Yet the qualifying gauntlet is intense … for men. More countries enter, so that means more games over a couple of years just to get to the big show. Mexico is still far ahead of the USA in soccer infrastructure. Other CONCACAF countries used to be. And Alex Morgan doesn’t get urine and batteries thrown at her in Central America.
In fact, the U.S. women rarely get anything other hero worship. If Jessica Fishlock thinks Hope Solo was disrespected, she’ll lecture the media (and, by extension, the fans) about it.
It’s a different game.
USSF numbers aren’t as transparent as they could be. I tried to get through the numbers in the Annual General Meeting report, but it’s difficult to get apples-to-apples comparisons. Some charts line up “total national team revenue” next to “total Women’s World Cup revenue.” Some of it isn’t USSF’s fault — last year, the U.S. women played (and won, for the first time in 16 years) the World Cup. The U.S. men did not have an event anywhere near that scale. In 2018, assuming Klinsmann doesn’t totally botch it, the situation will be reversed.
Then figure that the USSF is directly underwriting salaries and office expenses for the NWSL. You’d need a forensic accountant to figure out whether the USSF has a net gain or net loss from MLS. U.S. Soccer has aggressively stepped in to stop another U.S. league from failing.
And some WoSo fans will argue NWSL salaries and conditions should be a higher priority than national team salaries and amenities. Quite possible.
But again — we can’t forget how difficult this has been over time. The pay for a U.S. domestic club player in 2005 was $0. That has risen infinity percent.
All that said, when you read about the action the U.S. women have taken to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it’s hard to say they don’t have a point. (Insert my standard reservation about having Jeffrey Kessler represent soccer players here. Safe to say he didn’t impress when he had Sunil Gulati on the witness stand.)
Would a USA-Mexico men’s friendly in Texas draw NFL-level crowds, dwarfing anything we saw on the women’s Victory Tour? Yes. But the “attendance ticket revenue bonus” should ensure the men get paid. Why is it higher per ticket for the men?
So what’s the solution?
I don’t know. But it’s going to be something more creative than simply saying “equal pay for equal play.” It’s not equal play. In some cases, the WNT should get more than the men. The league needs more underwriting to get on its feet. But if the men crash the World Cup quarterfinals and land a massive windfall of money, they should get a fair share, right?
(Maybe the MNT should have lower per-game pay and bigger bonuses? Give them a little more incentive? That’s another rant — and a difficult case to make when a high-paid coach/technical director isn’t being held accountable.)
Just remember: Creative solutions are not evil. Soccer United Marketing is not evil. MLS is not evil.
And look — you can ask all sorts of equity questions. The U.S. women’s softball team has had fantastic success. Why don’t we support it the way we support soccer? Why are U.S. track and field stars and skiers of each gender more famous in Europe than they are here? How many of us even know who Dawn Harper Nelson is? Or Allison Schmitt? Or Ashton Eaton? Or Jennifer Suhr? Or Betsey Armstrong, a goalkeeper with more world championships than Hope Solo?
All of these issues are complicated. And history also tells us USSF could’ve done better for the women’s team in the past, so there’s nothing wrong whatsoever with players drawing another line.
But we need to do what’s best for all parties. Sinking MLS doesn’t help the NWSL. War between the sexes and inflated expectations brought us the WUSA, which sank beneath its excess and returned scores of players to amateur status. Bundling rights for MLS and women’s games with the men’s World Cup is, most likely, a net positive, as complex as that paper trail may be.
We have a lot of boats here. We need a rising tide.
The general consensus says playing multiple sports is a good thing for kids. They get a broader range of physical activity, they avoid overuse injuries, and they may find some skills in a secondary sport that transfer to their primary.
Also … they’re kids. The overwhelming majority of them are just looking for fun things to do with their friends. And later in life, they may have more social options if they’re comfortable playing pickup basketball as readily as they play soccer.
So as I spend parts of my winter sitting on a gym floor watching 7- and 8-year-olds heave a ball up toward a basket on which I can actually dunk, I sometimes try to shut off the coach/philosopher part of my brain and just enjoy the spectacle.
But not always. And I’m finding a couple of interesting philosophical differences between the USSF youth soccer mandates (which not everyone follows) and the approach I see in basketball.
1. Tactics. The basic advice for youth coaches in the single-digit years is simple: Get out of the way. Let them play. Let the game be the teacher. At the earliest ages, kids can’t even understand positions. And for heaven’s sakes, don’t yell at them during the game, or we’ll call you a “joystick coach.”
No such concern in second-grade basketball. Our team spent the first practice session of the season learning how to set screens for the point guard. Every time we bring the ball down the court (excluding fast breaks), our coach yells out “2!” or “3!” — and now “4!” and “5!” These are plays designating which player is supposed to set a screen. A couple of other players are supposed to move accordingly.
I think if my soccer club’s technical director saw me doing that, I’d be in for the lecture of a lifetime. But is it more necessary in basketball than it is in soccer?
And why do we think kids are better able to grasp these concepts in basketball? Are basketball players smarter? Or is it just because basketball has a clearer distinction between who has the ball and who doesn’t?
2. Passing. Yeah, they don’t get that in basketball any more than they get it in soccer. U8 soccer players are probably better at passing than second-grade basketball players, at least in our town. Also, the refs tend not to call dribbling infractions, and holding onto the ball until shooting is just a higher-percentage play than trying to fling it to a kid who can’t really catch it.
3. Individual skills. In soccer, we’re supposed to make sure players are getting plenty of touches on the ball at every practice, especially at the earliest ages. It’s not so much that we aren’t teaching how to pass as much as we are supposed to let kids get comfortable with the unnatural state of having soccer balls at their feet.
Our basketball practices? Usually no more than two balls in use, often just one. Players take turns learning plays or a particular skill such as boxing out for a rebound.
Is this typical? I don’t know. When I went to USA Basketball’s site, I just saw a bunch of things about teaching a 2-3 zone and so forth. Basketball is, at its heart, much more of a chalkboard sport than soccer is. But I do see a bit of hand-wringing over how we’re teaching kids, particularly when it comes to “the fundamentals.”
My hunch is that kids who play basketball in the winter will return to the soccer fields in spring with better spatial awareness. Maybe they’ll see that what they do away from the ball can affect the game.
So soccer players can learn from basketball. Can soccer coaches learn anything as well?
I’ve long figured the NBA was the U.S. pro sport best suited to a promotion/relegation system. It’s not hard to find a half-decent arena, the college system produces hundreds of noteworthy players who don’t make NBA rosters, several franchises sit in moribund mediocrity each year, and switching things up wouldn’t trample on history as it would in baseball, football or hockey.
Today, the NBA is struggling with the imbalance in its regional divisions and conferences. The playoffs could easily have some rotten teams. The suggested solutions are creative.
And all this is happening in a year in which teams are being accused of tanking for a shot at Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle or the other players expected to lead a deep draft class.
So why not go farther? Why not go to pro/rel in the NBA?
They’d solve the draft problem. The top three teams in the second division get promoted to the top division and get the top three picks in the draft.
That alone is a compelling reason to switch systems. And unlike the other U.S. pro leagues, the NBA offers no compelling reason not to go to pro/rel. No one has paid a franchise fee in years, so they shouldn’t have a lot of debt. All but two of the existing arenas were built after 2005, and the vast majority of teams are more than 10 years old.
And would anyone really miss the current system? Nah.
It’s astounding that whenever one of these high school basketball blowouts like this week’s 107-2 thriller in Indiana pops up, some dudes always pop up to say, “Oh yeah, well, you wouldn’t want the other team to just stop playing. My Southwest Birdpatch County team beat a team 198-1 one time, and that was after the coach put in the fourth-grade JV players and told them to pass the ball five times before shooting.”
Let’s do some basic math, shall we?
High school basketball games are typically 32 minutes — 8 minutes per quarter.
Let’s say you slow down a bit and shoot every 30 seconds — maybe your opponent takes 10 seconds (still relatively fast) per possession and you take 20. Then let’s say you shoot mostly 2-pointers and hit a staggering 75 percent of your shots. So every 2 minutes, you put up 4 shots and hit 3 — 6 points. That’s 3 per minute. If you score 3 points per minute, that’s 96 points.
And again, that’s if you’re hitting 75 percent of your shots in a half-court offense. That’s not going to happen, no matter how weak the other defense might be.
The losing team was apparently in “an aggressive 2-3 zone.” Great! What better time to practice passing the ball against an aggressive defense?
Neat event starting tomorrow — the 3-on-3 basketball world championships. It might be over 100 degrees on the outdoor court, but the venue is cool. For the USA, Skylar Diggins will be there. And we can’t wait for the opening matchup of Slovenia and Nepal.
Should be tons of fun. And organizers are hoping the 3-person version of the sport will be … in the Olympics?
This isn’t the only variant of an existing sport being pushed for the Games. Futsal, the indoor soccer game without walls, had a bit of a push recently.
It’s easier to add a new event than a new sport … unless, for some reason, you’re talking about women’s ski jumping. You already have the federation involved. That’s how cycling has managed to add mountain bike and BMX in the past few decades.
But like futsal, 3-on-3 basketball has a few issues:
1. The Games won’t get the best players. Beach volleyball is an exception to the rule on having two variants of the same sport — some players are better-suited to the sand, and the two-player format in particular brings a different dynamic than the indoor version. Soccer players don’t grow up aspiring to be futsal greats, and it’s hard to imagine basketball players growing up aspiring to play 3v3.
2. No one watches basketball and thinks, “You know what I hate about this game? Fast breaks.”
3. If the Olympics are really desperate to get the younger demographic, they’ll just add skateboarding. (Though skateboarding is not one of the eight sports being considered.)
So a World Championship at a Greek historic site? Cool. Olympics? I’ll just say I’m skeptical.
See the original post for projections from 16 months ago; read on for the latest (which may not have changed much):
The only major international event played since the last World Championships were the men’s and women’s European tournaments. The top four men: Spain, France, Russia, Macedonia. Women: Russia, Turkey, France, Czech Republic.
FIBA also compiles rankings that reflect all the various zonal tournaments. Top men: USA, Spain, Argentina, Greece, Lithuania, big gap. Top women: USA (by a mile), Australia/Russia (tie), giant gap, Czech Republic, Spain.
Men: The USA and Spain are clearly the front-runners. After that, the picks are more difficult. France has Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and two other NBA-affiliated players, though Joakim Noah is out injured. Great Britain has two players who passed briefly through Duke — Luol Deng and Eric Boateng. But you can’t always judge by the number of NBA or former college players. Lithuania has a lot of Euroleague experience (as well as some players U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski will know from ACC play), and Russia is built around several players from perennial power CSKA Moscow.
France (ranked 12th) may be underrated, especially when you consider that France qualified for the Olympics ahead of fourth-ranked Greece. Then Nigeria knocked out Greece in the last-chance Olympic tournament, qualifying along with Russia and Lithuania.
Brazil (#13) is certainly underrated. They finished second at the Americas qualifying tournament behind host Argentina (the USA did not participate), and they usually give the USA a tough game. Argentina beat Brazil in the neutral setting of the 2010 Worlds. But on paper, Brazil’s roster is stronger, and the history is solid.
So we’re not changing. USA, Spain, Brazil
Women: A U.S. loss would be a shocker. Australia has three straight silver medals, and the Opals return roughly half of their 2008 squad, including world-class star Lauren Jackson, though several WNBA players have moved on.
Russia was far from unbeatable in the European qualifying tournament last year, barely getting past Slovakia in the opener and losing a group-stage game to Lithuania. Belarus beat them in the next round, and Britain got within three points. They woke up and stomped everyone in the knockout stages, and no one else has given any reason to doubt the rankings, the original projection or the 2008 finish. USA, Australia, Russia