When to Panic

When the recent ESPN report on Auburn came out, it was quickly accompanied by the usual wailing and gnashing and harbinging of doom.

The article did catch my attention, I’ll admit. But before I reacted, I decided to read through it. Then I read through it again.

My response?

At least for now, that restraint was justified, as no new developments emerged to increase the need for panic.

But rather than go deep on one article, I’ll explain the info standards I follow before inducing panic using several examples. Yes, some stories have sent me into a funk. Others pass without justifying much beyond a shrug and a shake of the head.

So here is a guide on when to panic and when to shrug.

I. Single anonymous source: Attention only

This applies both to this week’s story and to Kevin Scarbinsky’s story about a conference call to fire Jay Jacobs.  Anonymous sourcing is allowed within ethical journalism, but the accepted standard is two anonymous sources.

Scarbinsky’s article relied on one anonymous source. Regardless of how credible that source might be, it’s safer to get two, even if one merely confirms the information without adding to it.

So while I found the Scarbinsky article interesting, if objectionable on other grounds, I adopted the wait and see attitude.  What we saw was a denial from Auburn President Dr. Steven Leath and nothing further.

Similarly, the ESPN report included one anonymous source. I did note that Auburn itself served as the other source, confirming the situation, but that’s an unusual case.

That Auburn would confirm it, rather than offer the “personnel issues” perceived stonewall, was also a source of assurance on the story for Auburn fans, but that’s another interesting side to it.

It seems that the Auburn athletics department has followed a strategy of “aggressive transparency” on certain stories, similar to their response when Shawn Assael of ESPN focused on Dakota Mosley, in his article on the 2011 arrest of four Auburn players.

When they have nothing to hide, they don’t act like they do.  They seem to realize that in such cases, openness solves more problems than a stonewalling approach avoids.

II. Named source/AU beat involvement: Moderate concern

Now, when a source is willing to openly attach his/her name to information, that takes it to a different level (and a single credible named source is acceptable in such cases).

The individual might have an unfair ax to grind, but when they grind the ax publicly, it takes the concern to a higher level.

I think about the 2006 NY Times report about the misuse of sociology independent studies.  Jim Gundlach, a sociology professor, was credited as the source of the information.  And ultimately it was worth worrying about.

This was an important story, and for all the grief he received, I give Dr. Gundlach a lot of credit for bringing it to light.  It was a UNC-level academic problem that needed to be addressed, and it was appropriately problematic for Auburn’s academic reputation. (Yes, I will die on this hill.)

So when that story came out, yes, it deserved our attention. It was bad. As I recall, I first heard about it on the WSFA evening news (this was 2006, after all), and I realized I was eventually standing in front of the TV and yelling at it.

Another consideration: take note of how the Auburn beat writers follow up on the story. Auburn is blessed with some top-notch journalism pros covering the athletics programs.

I know fans wish they would be as passive as the beat writers covering other CFB programs.  But given their aggressiveness (which ultimately is a positive), their response to such stories will let you know if something is there.

When such stories come out, regardless, all of the Auburn outlets will link to it and summarize it. They’re expected to, even if the process seems like a waste of time.

They might add an official reply from Athletics or Auburn University, but beyond that, they don’t consider the juice worth the squeeze.  That is an indication of how far the story could go and could allay your fears.

Now, if their reporting starts to uncover their own layers to the story, you might want to pay attention.  The concern level is likely to rise from moderate and approach panic.

III. Indictments/arrests: Panic

When the U.S. Attorney’s office in NYC announced that Chuck Person was indicted on a variety of charges, yeah, it was bad.  I won’t go much beyond that in discussing this case, since much is yet to be revealed.

No one knows where that case is going to end up, but yeah–when it reaches that stage, it’s bad. It’s for real.

So how to respond?

I did see a lot of anger and frustration once the ESPN report published. As time went on, and the first wave was the only wave, it was replaced by indignation and anger directed at the writers, particularly Mark Schlabach (some of it justified, but not all of it fair).

My main concern is when we assign face value to such journalistic transactions, and it overvalues the information given.

If it doesn’t involve federal or state charges or a named source, it might be worth waiting on.  That way, if it goes no further, you’ll ride a straight line from mellow to mellow, with no frantic, unnecessary up-then-down detour in between.

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The Kick Six and Me: An Oral History

I have seen several oral histories of the Kick 6, so I thought I would quickly jot down my memories of that night.  Add your own as comments, if you’d like.

I was at the top of Section 44 with a friend, Christie, who was at her first Auburn football game ever.  We had seen Sammie Coates catch the pop-pass and run it in, and we had booed with indignation when the officials restored one second to the clock.

I watched the attempted field goal, and from my side of the field, I had no idea that Chris Davis was back there.  I realized that he had caught the ball and started running it out.

My first thought was, “How quaint.  This player thinks he actually can do something fielding the field goal, and he is running fast too.”  I honestly thought he would be tackled and we would head to overtime.

Davis cut to the sideline, and I recall, from my view in the end zone, that when Cody Mandell and Dee Ford crossed in front of Davis, it was like a curtain opening and revealing Davis running toward the end zone.

As that curtain opened, it unleashed a noise as a huge wave cascading from all over Jordan-Hare, and we were all going crazy — cheering, hugging, screaming.

Two weeks before, after the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare,” I had tweeted, “I cannot believe what I have just seen.”  So I tweeted, “Again, I cannot believe what I have just seen.”

Our side of the stadium was not allowed on the field, so we got gridlocked in the stands for a while.  Like Mike Szvetitz quoted in the Opelika-Auburn News, I could not believe that they played “Celebration.”  A 1980 song?  Really?

For the next couple of days, I heard from relatives who did not even care about football (or so I thought) telling me they had seen the kick and they thought it was great.  I realized this was a moment shared with the college football world and the country, an unbelievable play.  Those of us who were there became fortunate witnesses to history, and were glad to share in it.

The next couple of weeks, Auburn was like Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth.  I remember seeing a campus tour pass in front of Tichenor Hall that next week, and everyone was gazing around them in wonder.

I realize we are mocked, often from another side of the state, for continuing to celebrate this moment.  But this was a moment for all Auburn to celebrate, and seeing YouTube’s of fans celebrating, both inside the stadium and at home, reminds me of that bond.

For those who were watching at home or in a restaurant or bar, the moment was theirs as much as ours in the stadium.  I still get choked up with joy watching it.

 

Who Pays How Much to Sports in the SEC?

The Chronicle of Higher Education and Huffington Post collaborated on an excellent report, “Sports at Any Cost,” which looks at the high financial cost of sports, particularly to smaller schools trying to hit the so-called “big time.”

How does the SEC stack up?  I took the SEC data from a “College Sports Subsidy Scorecard” page they created and came up with this

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 5.59.38 AM

A couple of quick comments:

For institutions that do not rely on student fees, the money comes almost 100 percent from institutional funds, so the students would still pay the cost, but indirectly, through higher tuition, for example.

Vanderbilt University is not included, because it is a private institution and not subject to public records law.

LSU has committed itself to transferring $7.2 million/year from athletics to the general fund — the opposite direction of the subsidies portrayed in this article. In July, the university increased the transfer by $3 million for this year, given the funding crisis facing the university.