Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Beach, Baby



As I wrap up my Intersession class here at Ole Miss (can you really teach an entire semester in two weeks? Better question--can the students learn an entire semester in two weeks?) I'm preparing to head to my idea of paradise--a beach in south Texas. I'm not one of those who brings a laptop to the beach to get extra work done, so I'll be incommunicado for awhile (at least until June 3). And as crazy as it sounds I have no plans to read or watch any sports media during my time off.

I'll leave all of you in the capable hands of Joe Gisondi, Angela Renkoski, John Carvalho and our other JSM bloggers. When I get back I'd like a full report of all the good stuff I missed ...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Heidi Redux



If the infamous "Heidi" game between the Jets and Raiders taught network sports programmers nothing else it's that they should seldom, if ever, cut away from live events. Ever since that game in 1968 networks have usually stayed with the action even when it runs overtime. (Remember Dan Rather walking off the set of the CBS Evening News in 1987 because the U.S. Open tennis finals went too long?)



But NBC apparently has not learned the lesson. It was NBC that cut away from the end of the Jets-Raiders in 1968, and this past weekend the network created a mini-controversy by cutting away from the end of an NHL playoff game. It wasn't just that NBC cut away, but it did so right before the Ottawa-Buffalo overtime started. And the switch was made to allow NBC to show not just the Preakness horse race, but hours of pre-race coverage. Hockey viewers were told the rest of the game could be seen on the Versus cable network.


Naturally, hockey fans were outraged and just as naturally NBC defended its decision. NBC gets into a lot of talk about "contractual obligations," but don't be fooled. If the U.S. Open golf tournament went an extra 18 holes and Tiger Woods was playing NBC would figure out a way to keep it on the air. No matter what NBC says this decision was all about the bottom line. It's math even a network executive can figure out--hockey draws about a million-plus viewers while horse racing gets five million-plus.


The numbers don't always add up the way people want (especially us hockey fans), but it's an instructive lesson in what really drives sports media, especially in today's marketplace. If networks can make more money by taking your favorite sport off the air, then as the old baseball saying goes, "kiss it goodbye!"


Psychologists dig into sports movies

Just learned about The Sport Psychology Movie Database, a site that focuses on movies with sports psychological themes. The purpose, according to the site, is to "provide a resource for sport psychologists to find movies to enhance their teaching and their consulting.” So far, the movies are indexed alphabetically by sport and psychological theme. Under ‘aggression,’ for example, you can find Braveheart, ‘social factors’ yields Brian’s Song, and ‘anxiety’ lists Caddyshack, among others. More than 20 themes are cited (and most movies include more than one theme.)

The movies are not all true sports movies, as you can tell from the listing of not only Braveheart (warriors), but of Ordinary People (life & death), Good Will Hunting (math) and Dead Poets Society (teaching, acting). And the themes are not always sports-oriented either. Ordinary People lists ‘parents and families’ as a theme, which makes sense for films such as Hoop Dreams, Rocky and The Natural. The Simpsons: Lisa on Ice, though, is an interesting entry.

This list was compiled after discussions among members of the SPORTPsy discussion group, a member-only list-serv housed out of Temple University. More than 150 movies are listed so far. (And they are all linked to the Internet Movie Database.)

The site’s creator understands that themes are not objective. “You may disagree with the themes listed for any movie,” he writes on the site, “as one viewer may see things in a movie that another does not. As the SPMD develops, these themes may change. These themes are far from exhaustive and are highly subjective.”

At this point, the site is really a list, a place where one might be able to develop topics for research. Perhaps, with time, this site will develop into a place that also includes research on these themes and on sports-related issues. You might want to bookmark the site for future reference.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sports Media MUSEings

I wanted to pass along some very good news about the Journal of Sports Media from our publisher, University of Nebraska Press. This information came to me over the weekend from UNP's journals manager Manjit Kaur--

Dear Prof. Schultz:

"Once a year, all MUSE partners are invited to submit journals for inclusion to MUSE. I resubmitted JSM again last April when I was at the board meeting. I am happy to inform you that JSM has been accepted for inclusion into Project MUSE. Below, I've attached the selection committee's response after evaluating volume 2:". .. . . . especially pleased to see that the Journal of Sports Media's second issue shows much progress, and that they are receiving higher quality AND quantity of manuscripts submissions is great news. . . . the editor and the board are making excellent efforts to publicize the title." One selection committee member, who is a librarian, said, "I even read the JSM blog!"JSM will be included as of 2008, volume 3, and it will be in the premium database. What does this mean? It will not be available to all MUSE subscribers but only to the larger institutions that can afford to purchase it. Its inclusion into the full-database will be determined by its reception and success on the premium database. Hence, it is vital that the journal continues to publish quality, cutting-edge articles. As long as JSM continues publishing good stuff, we should be okay. "

Thanks to all who have contributed to JSM, and let's work together to keep it strong and viable. That starts with quality research, so if you or someone you know is working in this field remind them of our publishing opportunities. We have a little more than a month left in the current call for papers and have already received 12 submissions.

Again, my thanks to Manjit and all connected with JSM.

Friday, May 18, 2007

College Sport Research Institute

The College Sport Research Institute will soon be off and running at the University of Memphis. Faculty leader and director Richard Southall reports that the Institute will soon get final approval from the unversity, so congratulations are in order.

Richard has also send out for feedback a preliminary call for papers for the CSRI annual symposium/ conference in April 2008, which is listed below. Apparently, the dates are still flexible; feel free to contact him regarding times, dates, etc. at southall@memphis.edu.

College Sport Research Institute
Call for Papers
3rd Annual Conference
April 16-19, 2008 – Memphis, TN

To be considered for acceptance, abstracts must reflect college-sport research on the history of intercollegiate athletics, social-cultural college-sport issues, legal theory or the application of law to college-sport issues, business-related issues in college sport, or special topics related to developing college-sport issues. The research should have reached a fairly complete stage of development, and the abstract should provide enough detail about the research, so the reviewers have sufficient information to judge its quality. Abstracts proposing teaching-related sessions on college-sport issues will also be considered, as long as the abstract provides sufficient detail to judge the quality of the proposed session.

Abstracts will undergo a three-person, blind-review process to determine acceptance. Abstracts submitted to CSRI should not be concurrently submitted for consideration to another conference, but may reflect work that has been previously presented at another conference.

ABSTRACT FORMAT AND SUBMISSION PROCEDURES:
All abstracts MUST be submitted electronically as a Microsoft Word attachment.Abstracts must contain the following information and conform to the following format requirements:
Single-spaced
One-inch margins,
Times New Roman 12-point font, and
400-word maximum for 25-minute presentations and posters, and 800-word maximum for 75-minute presentations.

ABSTRACT FORMAT:
Line 1: length of session desired (choose from the options below):
· 25-minute oral presentation (including questions)
· 75-minute teaching symposium, roundtable, or workshop
· 75-minute forum (2-3 papers with a discussant, including questions)
· Poster presentation

Line 2: three to four keywords that will help the program coordinator to schedule similar topics in succession
Line 3: author(s) and institution(s) names (centered on page)
Line 4: presentation title (centered on page)
Line 5: blank

Line 6 to end: text of abstract
In the email message accompanying the attached abstract, include the principal author’s name, postal mailing address, email address, and fax and telephone numbers.Submission of abstract(s) indicates the intent of the presenter(s) to register for the conference at the appropriate registration fee.SUBMISSION DEADLINE:

Abstracts should NOT be submitted prior to October 1, 2007 and MUST be received no later than Monday, December 17, 2007 (11:59p.m. CST). Submissions received after this date and time will not be considered for acceptance.

Email all abstracts to:

Richard M. Southall (Director - CSRI) at southall@memphis.edu

NOTE: All abstracts MUST be submitted electronically as a Microsoft Word attachment

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Penny for your Video Stream

Video streaming on the Internet is nothing new, but Penny Entertainment has taken it to a new level. The company provides streaming access to athletic events for a host of north Texas schools. Not only sports like football, volleyball and soccer, but also school events like pep rallies and band concerts. In many cases it's possible to watch the event live via the Internet ... just another example of how technology is changing the face of sports media.

The consequences, both good and bad, are intriguing. You can check out a preview of what Penny is doing and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Review of Reviews

In less than a week or so those who submitted research papers to the AEJMC conference should find out if their papers were accepted, which got me to thinking about the research review process. As much as we try to make journalism and mass communication research as scientific as possible, the review process remains one of the most arbitrary and subjective processes imaginable.

To me, the biggest problem is a lack of consistency/standards. There's nothing an author can point to and say, "OK, now I understand what the rules are." Every journal is different and judges to its own standards. I submitted a paper to a journal one time and it was returned with high marks, but one reviewer wanted a revision because the theory used was inappropriate. I took out the theory and resubmitted, and it was then rejected because it didn't have theory! No wonder authors get frustrated.

There's also the issue of bias, which is present any time human beings are involved in a process of this sort. Sometimes I wonder who's looking at the paper, what kind of mood he/she is in, is there any professional jealousy involved, etc. To be sure, most of the reviewers seem dedicated and professional. But it also seems that with every journal there is some small cadre who's job is always to say no and be extremely unpleasant about it.

A couple of years ago a researcher at the University of Texas (whose name escapes me at present) sent out a survey asking for feedback on some of these issues. I filled out the survey, but have never seen the results anywhere. If anyone knows where they are I would be interested in seeing them.

In the end, the research review process is a lot like the Nielsen television ratings system--it has a lot of flaws, but for the moment its the best, and only, system we've got.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Don't get too caught up with stats

I've always been a stats geek, particularly when it comes to baseball. For instance, I know Ty Cobb's lifetime batting average is .367, Lou Gehrig has drilled 24 grand slams, and that Cy Young has won 511 games, nearly 100 more than Walter Johnson and 163 more than Roger Clemens, who, yesterday, decided to return for yet another abbreviated season. But I also know that Sam Crawford has 309 career triples and how to calculate earned-run average and on-base percentage, like many other sports fanatics.

I've covered my share of games where I've focused on walks, unearned runs and runners left on base. On Sunday, I sat outside under a tree debating what major-league records would never be broken with my neighbor. Jon said DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak; I countered with Cy Young's wins. Arguably, neither will be broken. We both agreed A-Rod would probably break Bonds' imminent home run record and that Derek Jeter transcends his stats (not that they are pedestrian by any means.)

But in these discussions, we forget that stats are just one way to measure a player's success. I thought I knew this. My daughter drove home this point several days ago.

My daughter, Kristen, plays for a travel softball team in town, a team that is competitive but not among the state's elite -- much like my daughter, a player who works hard, runs hard, and does fairly well. Last year, she was among the youngest players on the team, a slightly built girl among emerging women. She lacked size and confidence, striking out whenever she did not walk through the first 20-plus games. Then, an amazing thing happened: She hit the ball, a grounder to short that was easily scooped up for an out. She beamed. She did not care that her average remained .000. She realized she could hit a live fastball and eventually racked up some big hits, drove in some runs, and ripped some line shots to the outfield.

Now, she is a starter for this team. Kristen is still not the biggest nor the best player, but she is among the hardest working, whether that is shagging fly balls or hitting the batting cage. She was hitting .333 at one point. Last week, she started a game-winning rally in the last inning, ripping a shot up the middle that the shortstop knocked down but could not handle. Kristen stole second and scored on a passed ball, sliding so hard she ripped up her knee. Her team won a few batters later.

A few days later, I checked the team's stats online and realized this last-inning hit had not been recorded, nor had a few others. Instead of batting .300, she was hitting .178. I was angry, so I told my daughter to check with the coaches. "I do not think they gave you some of your hits last weekend," I said.

Kristen did not pause. "I don't care what my average is," she said rather confidently. "I know I'm hitting really well." And she walked out of the room to go set up her playhouse in the front yard.

Too often, we parents get upset at things that do not matter. And too often we sports writers get too caught up in stats. We need to spend more time with players, watch their reactions, and learn more about the teams we cover -- which, admittedly, is difficult for writers covering six (or many more) teams at a time.

I know I'll continue to focus on stats, but I'll be more cautious when I cite them in stories. Like a batter giving herself up for the team by hitting a grounder to second that advances a runner, we all need to give up the easy stat-laced lead for one that considers the more subtle aspects of games. That's the one worth writing and reading.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why do we like sports?

The recent death of Cardinal pitcher Josh Hancock has caused me to think about my emotional connection to sports, which are essentially games played by people I don't know but somehow feel I do. Two sports bloggers expressed what I was feeling much more eloquently than I could and I highly recommend them to you. They are "R.I.P., Josh Hancock," at deadspin.com for April 30, 2007 (http://deadspin.com/sports/josh-hancock/rip-josh-hancock-256275.php), written by Will Leitch, and "On Perspective," on vivaelbirdos.com for April 30, 2007, by Larry Boros.

For happier reasons we like sports, I turn to my son Nick Renkoski who actually took the time to answer my posted question when I was wondering why no one asks men why they like sports. Here's his post, largely unedited.

In April of 2003 a 13-year-old girl forgot the words to “The Star Spangled Banner” on national television. It was Game Four of the NBA playoffs against the Portland Trailblazers and Dallas Mavericks. Little Natalie Gilbert, chosen by fans to sing the song falters around the "twilight's last gleaming" part. This has happened before and it's always embarrassing. Usually the mortified melodist simply treads through it, alone and forlorn, while players and coaches watch on stone-faced. And this appeared to be the case this time, until Mo Cheeks walked over to Gilbert, took her under her arm and began singing with her.

Gilbert regains her confidence and gets back on track, and most stunningly of all the entire arena begins singing as well. After "the home of the brave," Gilbert and Cheeks, who have probably never met before, exchange a hug. This is the kind of moment that can only occur in sports. Sports present us with the unexpected with such frequency it’s amazing that ESPN prognosticators can even keep a job. Usually these stirring cases of unpredictability come in the form of an upset victory or a rousing comeback, but sometimes, every so often if you pay enough attention, sports has the capacity to remind us that it doesn't matter what Stephen A. Smith or Peter Gammons say is going to happen, it doesn't matter what the Vegas odds are, or it doesn't even matter if the Trailblazers beat the Mavericks tonight, because there are things like class and helping those in need, and selflessness that are more important. Sports reminds us of that.

And then there are the games.

We watch on the promise that we might see something we've never seen before, and sports delivers this just often enough to keep us satisfied. We watch to the last minute because of Doug Flutie and Kirk Gibson and Christian Laettner. We watch because they provide the same twists and subplots as our favorite TV shows, but sports can create the emotion in the characters and extract the elation or despair out of us that a soap opera or sitcom can only dream of.

We watch because we've created heroes and villains already, and we must hold faith that the hero will win out. We watch because we must believe that things like will, drive, and determination mean something. We watch because for once we can see issues being resolved on an equal playing field. The size of the basket is the same on both ends, every team gets 27 outs to win the game, the same rules apply for both teams. We watch because we think they're fair, when in the case of Curt Flood, Jack Trice, Katie Hnida, Len Bias, and Josh Gibson they aren't.

We watch because we believe that the good outweighs things coming out of Barry Bonds' locker, the underground history of Maple Leaf Gardens, anything Mike Tyson has ever said, or the ultimate story--double homicide in Brentwood. We watch because once there was a young man from Kentucky with a devastating left hook who used sports as a soapbox for social change. We watch sports because occasionally we see men and women exert all the strength and grace the human body can produce for no other reason than the joy that it can be done.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Research of the Week

In the January-February issue of the Futurist, three Northwestern business professors take a look at the future of sports media. They focus on the impact of new technology for sports content providers and argue that such technology has "reinvented the sports media pipeline." Networks no longer have total control of content and power has shifted toward the sports media consumer, who has more choice and options. The content providers are also more empowered, because they can take their messages and programming directly to the consumer.

Not exactly surprising stuff, but still a good read.