Wednesday, November 5, 2008

No Foul On Further Review Column

If you watched Michigan State University's improbable 25-24 win over the University of Wisconsin last Saturday as I did, you might have come to the same head-scratching conclusion as I did: How did that happen?

What grabs my attention today is the stark difference in focus one state's group of fans and journalists are taking in comparison to the other state's like group. MSU fans and journalists are concerned with the program's confident turnaround, the school's disciplined leader and the resolute attitude from players. Wisconsin is talking about penalties, officiating and lack or leadership. Did this one-point game reveal more than what we saw on Saturday? Completely dominated for the great majority of the game, Michigan State made just enough plays when it counted the most to evade a certain defeat. It was the kind of game fans have grown accustomed to watching Michigan -- not Michigan State -- win over the past 40 years. Maybe this is truly a year of change in this state and this country, after all. Michigan State was out-rushed by the Badgers in a staggering 281-25 differential. The Badgers led for almost 50 minutes, most of that time in convincing fashion. The Spartans led for less than seven whole seconds, yet the Spartans won, because they led at the most crucial time, when there was no time left, even if it was by the slimmest of margins.

As I exited Spartan Stadium among a jubilant throng of green and white, I was consumed by the differences in opinion being, shall we say, spewed into the atmosphere, by the fans of each team. The Wisconsin faithful weren't forgiving a holding call that scrubbed a 3rd-and-1 conversion and subsequent 1st-and-goal late in the game that would have salted the victory away for Wisconsin. Instead, a false start tacked on five more yards and turned a 1st-and-goal into a 3rd-and-16 that Wisconsin didn't convert. After the Badgers punted the football, the Spartans drove down the field for a game-winning field goal on the next-to-last play of the game.
For the game, the Spartans were penalized twice for 30 yards while the Badgers absorbed 12 penalties for 121 yards.

Yesterday, in my attempt to silence the political drone early in the day, I started looking online for the Madison / Wisconsin papers to address the game's stark differences in that category via the US Sports Pages site . Among the many I found at, I came across an article titled After Further Review by Mike Lucas from The Capital Times in Madison. Lucas took a different tact in addressing the issues of officiating. He wrote a fair, balanced op-ed about the different forces at play during Saturday's discourse in frustration for Wisconsin's football fortunes.

It's not the only article of this particular game's officiating emanating from Wisconsin, just merely the one article that takes a fair look at the game's officiating with any balance or credible source quotes. Tom Mulhern wrote about Badger coach Bret Bielema's task of eliminating penalties. Mulhern also writes about Bielema's Monday press conference in regards to Saturday's penalties and Bielema's lack of contrition. Columnist Andy Baggot wrote an irresponsible piece that suggested officials are instituting a revenge policy for Bielema's first two years as coach. I want to give the piece the benefit of the doubt and say it was a blog, but it looks like America's longest run-on sentence. Finally, columnist Tom Oates wrote of Bielema's role in garnering a 15-yard unsportsmanlike foul against his team.

There's no shortage for opinion in the Cheese state about this game. Let me also say I have a lot more respect for coaches, players and officials than I do for some of these writers. It's much easier to avoid critical mistakes when you watch games from afar inside cozy press boxes. Based on what I can cull from their writing, some of these men don't have a particularly strong acumen for what gets invested into these games from a professional, physical and emotional standpoint. If that seems harsh, I make no apologies for calling it like I see it. I've done their job, and I know they've never done mine.

Lucas sourced some of his information from, a site I used to write for. I didn't appreciate the less-than-timely pay or the belief that quality writing shouldn't be compensated with more than a few peanuts but I can say the site's template allows for the dispersal of instant opinion from the informed writer or referee. There's a thorough dissection of the holding call that drew the ire of the Badger fans that Lucas references in his article.

What's of interest to me is that Lucas used a healthy amount of relevant, historical background, specifically the 1991 Wisconsin-Iowa game that featured another controversial holding call involving then Iowa Hawkeye Bret Bielema, sprinkled in some common-sense application about earning your place at the table and veered away from the usual angry vitriol that fuels most columns about officiating. It was the kind of balanced opinion-writing that we're missing more and more in today's 'How can we create Shock & Awe' journalism game.

The column speaks to me because of the reasoned opinion, statistical fact and credible sources Lucas credits. He let the story tell the story and gave the reader enough fact to make a decision on their own instead of trying to march into history as another op-ed beatdown of the faceless ref or coach turned punching bag.

Like I said, it truly looks and feels like a season of change.

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, due August 2009 from Arcadia Publishing

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