The Un-United State of College Football (Northwestern’s Union Dilemma)

The Psychology of Unity could be quite informative for Northwestern amidst their quandry

College athletics are at a crossroads and these roads are currently converging in Evanston, IL

By David Hauser

What do you do when the young people—schooled by a society hungry to teach unity, teamwork, and togetherness via the lessons from coaches and wins/losses in teams sports, and further empowered by the scholarships and education afforded to them by their play—harness all these teachings and join together to challenge the very system that insisted upon their need to internalize the value of teamwork in the first place?

This is the paradoxical quandary Northwestern University (along with the entire college athletics system) is left to sit with following the landmark decision from the NLRB Chicago regional office suggesting Northwestern football players have the right to unionize as a collective labor group.

Team sports are the training ground for where many of us learn to work in groups and unite toward common goals with one another.  As a psychologist working on both ends of the developmental spectrum, with parents and kids, I see more smiles and faces light up when talking about their Saturday mornings on the field with teammates (or sidelines with fellow parents), than of just about any other experience.  Sports, at their very best, are community.

Nowhere is this more visible than in college sports (especially college football), which inspires a brand of zealotry, passion, and connection among Americans to a degree not seen in any other sports landscape.  Regions develop and exhibit an entire collective identity based upon their football conference–brace yourself for an overdose of cocksureness if you ever dare engage a Southerner by suggesting any degree of ambiguity within the hierarchy of college football conferences (PSST-they may have a few strong opinions about the SEC).

In a historical era where organized religion attendance shrinks and the middle class work day expands (subsequently reducing opportunities for social gathering), more and more of our precious opportunity for communion is housed within stadium parking lot tailgates, high school homecoming pep rallies, and Saturday mornings at the little league field.  Our children are coached and encouraged to form and grow together as one unit, their fans band together around them in support, and within sports a primal need for togetherness is offered to a spiritually hungry group of people finding fewer and fewer outlets and time for union.

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Lessons from March Madness 2014 Part I: Canada is Important.

Wiggins, Ejim, Pango, Powell... Canadian Hoopsters Abound!

Wiggins, Ejim, Pango, Powell… Canadian Hoopsters Abound!

A 5 minute history of Canadian Basketball and why it is more significant than previously thought…

By David Hauser

There is a Freakanomics type of math that we do not employ often enough when examining sports and cultural phenomena: the +18 years formula.  As in, when there is something noticeable or out of the ordinary in a new generation or in a new crop of college freshman, go ahead and subtract eighteen years and identify some of the events, policies, and cultural movements that set the backdrop for this new group’s birth.

With such in mind, the Toronto Raptors have given us some moments over the last 18-20 years.  The franchise was established in 1995, along with fellow Canadian expansion team the Vancouver Grizzlies, as part of David Stern’s megalomanimous[1] insistence on turning the NBA into the next ‘world sports brand’ (note the synergistic delight between the drama, conspiracies, and chicanery in every NBA offseason along with FIFA’s routine leadership style fraught with a European flopping flare for the dramatic).  One would be more than fair in asking, with 18 years of data under our belts, has the NBA’s great Canadian Expansion been successful, meaningful, or even worth it at all?

Somewhere in Brooklyn a 23 year old with a caterpillar mustache who’s wearing a retro ’97 Bryant ‘Big Country’ Reeves Vancouver Grizzlies jersey just scoffed at this silly line of questioning.  However, for the rest of us, what really has NBA branded Canadian basketball provided us?  With the Grizzlies quickly having scampered across the continent to the mountains(?)[2] of Memphis, we are really only left to examine the evidence of Ontario basketball.

From the late 90s through the early 2000s the Raptors stamped their cultural mark namely with Vince Carter’s vinsanity and once in a generation dunk contest performances.  With substance though, the 2001 Raptors were on the doorstep to their first Eastern Conference Finals, but fell one point short to the Aaron McKie Allen Iverson led 76ers.  Looking back, this very well may have been the turning point for the franchise.  Despite (or because of) their lack of future playoff success, the Toronto professional basketball team managed to become the franchise who drafted raw, athletic talent (i.e., McGrady, Bosh, Half-man/Half-Amazin), developed them, and then watched them move to greener pastures and catalyze deep playoff drives for other teams.[3]

As the departed Raptors thrived for other teams throughout the mid-to-late Aughts, the visible passion of Toronto basketball manifested namely on Internet message boards through the “Raptor Truthers” movement (little did we know, the real Toronto basketball passion was showing itself on the elementary and middle school parquet–more on that in a moment).  The Raptor Truthers, a group of beleaguered sports fans trying to will their team credibility via the internet[4], were truly revolutionaries in establishing a rich Internet tradition as an intimidating and intense special interest sports base that browbeat sports writers to report more kindly about their beloved…as if that might change the truth about their team.

Yes there were some moments in these 18 years, but it does seem far-fetched that this is what David Stern dreamed of at night when hatching this great Canadian expansion in the early 90s.

As we check-in on Canadian NBA basketball as it turns the big ‘one-eight’ and can now serve its country and consume adult beverages,[5] there is perhaps a renewed hope.  For it is those little Ontario infants born of the mid 90s, seemingly growing up mimicking Carter and McGrady fast breaks on the NERF hoops perched upon their bedroom doors, that began attending college in the past couple of years, and wouldn’t you know it, an inordinate heaping of them are mighty fine basketball players.  In watching March Madness this weekend the names Andrew Wiggins!, Melvin Ejim!, Pango!, Dwight Powell! extolled off the tongues of play-by-play announcers in every which direction and region this weekend along with the ubiquitously espoused phrase “and he comes from his hometown of Toronto, Ontario Canada.”  The college basketball landscape is O!verflowing with Canadian talent like never before and the question raised for me is where did this sudden influx come from?

Providing further example of the +18 theory, in watching March Madness this opening weekend, the play (well actually…mostly name) of Shaquielle McKissic of ASU jumped off the screen late Thursday night.  Yes Shaquielle hit a few clutch shots down the stretch to give the Sun Devils a fighting shot at moving on in the tourney, but where in the world was the office wide memo that we all had another Shaq in our lives?  And then it dawned on me- of course, the 18+ rule.  Shaquille O’Neal came into the NBA in 1992 and within a mere three years he had a hypnotizing shoe, a taco named after him, multiple Greek/Roman nicknames, and two broken back boards under his belt (along with one NBA Finals appearance).  And voila 18 years later, we have arrived at the place in history when Shaquille O’Neal’s cultural imprint gets rewarded with a new generation of folks taking on his previously under utilized namesake.[6]

Could these two examples of 90s cultural basketball icons influencing today’s tournament and young players all be some elaborate happenstance and simply a matter of correlating events, lacking true causal inference?  Sure.  However, I implore you though to watch March Madness this second weekend and not notice the outlier–that 2013-2014 has significantly more Canadian prospects (33 in all in the tournament) than ever before and there must be some explanation for this.  Wichita State put two Canadian starters on the court yesterday, both from Ontario.  The Jayhawks relied all year on their own “Canadian LeBron James,” in Andrew Wiggins.  Melvin Ejim and his dapper flat top propelled Iowa State into the second weekend of the Big Dance.  Something is happening here.

Eighteen years ago, David Stern birthed his Canadian basketball baby.  Maybe this baby had a tough go of it throughout an awkward adolescence and only recently has started to show signs of maturation in the last few years, the high school years if you will, under the new tutelage of General Manager Masai Ujiri.  But who of us did not go through as much in those tricky and clumsy middle school and early high school years?

The Toronto Raptors will make the playoffs this year for the first year in a long time.  In a top-heavy Eastern Conference they likely will not move past where Vince Carter was able to lead them in yesteryear.  David Stern might be gone, but a new generation of Canadian basketball emerges in his absence.  And while the Godfather of Canadian Basketball, Steve Nash nears retirement, the investment of basketball north of the border seems to finally be paying big dividends.  It would appear the best of Canada’s brand of basketball is yet out in front of us.

On that note, this one’s for you, Andrew Wiggins—O Canada!

[1] Um, not really a word, or at least one that can be found in a dictionary.

[2] Naturally with the Memphis connection the obvious move was to change the team name to something The Firm or John Grisham related, but damn our sports bureaucracies to do something that crafty

[3] Of course applying to everyone except Tracy McGrady

[4] Now a common past time for every team’s fan base via Reddit

[5] Canada has a drinking age??

[6] You’re kidding yourself if you do not see that we are 13 years away from an outlandish number of Kim’s, Khole’s, and Kourtney’s coming of age

Is it Great to Be a Florida Gator??

No rest for weary Gator fans who may have stashed their 2008 BCS Champs shirts for sunnier days: Jeff Driskel’s recentl loss to The U has nerves amok in Gainesville

By David Hauser

Attending a 10-year high school reunion after spending one’s 20’s accruing a laundry list of felonies and frequenting brony conventions sounds more desirable than the five-year reunion the 2008 National Champion Florida Gators have bathed in this summer.  While Tim Tebow may be able to show his former gridiron classmates snapshots of his Ben Hill Griffin Stadium featured $500,000 bronze statue and Percy Harvin can lean on his newly minted $67 million contract to rent out the lobby bar for the reunion after party, the boys in orange and blue of yesteryear have experienced an uncanny hideous run of unfortunate events this summer.  Let’s take a brief look at their ill-fated, Dante’s Inferno of a summer (or Dante’s Peak depending on your feelings about Pierce Brosnan’s post Nintendo 64 Goldeneye work):

Swampy Summer Camp Timeline:

  • June 26– Absent of any irony, or humanity for that matter, former standout UF tight end and former Tebow favorite pass target, Aaron Hernandez was arraigned for 1st degree murder.  Haunting and tragic details manifested suggesting Hernandez led an execution style murder of his “friend,” and casually left behind hoards of circumstantial evidence like his spit out and chewed out bubble yum at the scene of the crime.  Subsequently a trail of breadcrumbs has emerged leading back to previous unsolved murders and attempted murders in Boston and Gainesville with Hernandez’s fingerprints all over the case files.  Most recently, a damning feature in Rolling Stone profiled Hernandez’s troubled past following his father’s premature death including: alleged gang connections, violent crimes at UF potentially swept away by an earnest Urban Meyer trying to thump some bible into this seemingly lost teen-come-thug, and rampant angel dust consumption by Hernandez over the last six months which may at least in part explain some of the dense callousness layered upon this case.
  • July 30– In seemingly bright news for Gator disciples, 2008 stud all-purpose offensive weapon, Percy Harvin got paid and got away from the spray paint can arm of Christian Ponder.  Despite this good news, consistent with the hot hot heat of summer baking down on former Gators, Harvin immediately aggravated his hip, requiring surgery that will keep him off the field for much of the first season of this grand new contract.
  • August 1– Doing nothing to shake the image of North Florida as a wellspring of redneck parlance, former Gator All-Amurikin’ wideout Riley Cooper saw fit to drop an N-Bomb in the direction of an African-American security guard who was so rudely preventing the D-List celebrity from going back stage at a stop on the Kenny Chesney world tour.  Much to the disappointment (and lack of awareness) of Cooper, he happens to live in the Western Hemisphere during the 21st century, where cell phone cameras are kind of a “thing.”  The Internet heard about it, and the Internet got mad.  Adding insult to slur, was the timing of the release of this uncouth video, squaw in the heart of the dog days of summer, giving most beat-less sports writers (not all, kudos to Whitlock) further opportunity to pounce a Gator.
  • August 31– Cue the roadies: the NFL QB career revival tent is coming down.  Former Heisman QB and everyone’s favorite evangelical rowdy reptile, Tim Tebow, had his NFL career absorb perhaps its final blow dart when he was cut from the New England Patriots before the start of the regular season.  With Josh McDaniels, the coach/GM that drafted him into the NFL, and Urban Meyer crushholder, Bill Belicheck, giving up on the idea of Timmy as a legitimate NFL quarterback, he now more than ever seems destined to be the lead of the next season of The Bachelor.
  • September 9– And finally this past weekend, Maurkice Pouncey, Twin A and Anchor of the National Championship offensive line, suffered a season ending ACL and MCL tear putting the rare Week 1 nail in the coffin to the Pittsburgh Steelers season that already never was.

So let it be proclaimed: beware Brandon Spikes, Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden, the Alachua County winds are swirling these days, and not in a swell direction.

ATL: The Capital of College Football

Atlanta is far more than just the capital of Georgia

Atlanta is far more than just the capital of Georgia

By David Hauser

The 2012 SEC Championship should go down as one of the greatest college football games ever.  On College Football’s Conference Championship Weekend, for yet another year, it was the only championship game that mattered.  The SEC reigns supreme for another season and Southerners could not be more proud to let the rest of the country know it.

You see, I am a temporary resident of Atlanta for the year, so I’ve gotten just a sip of the flavor and a whiff of the aroma of the college football culture down here.  And I’ve quickly come to learn that Atlanta is the Capital City of College Football in this country.  While the entire state of Ohio may gasp in horror at this statement and Austin, Texas and Eugene, Oregon may insist otherwise (as some of Nate Silver’s numbers might suggest), there is simply no other city where college football means more and where the population is more overrun with zealotry and pride than Atlanta on autumn Saturdays.

Atlanta is the melting pot of the SEC: an amalgamation of Crimson Tide intensity, Gator devotion, and Gamecock pride, reaching across ethnic and social status divisions as one region passionately engaged and tuned in on fall Saturdays.  I’ve joked with my new co-workers here that it seems like it would be a sin to host a wedding on a Saturday during football season in the South and they responded with a straight-faced nod and a “yeah, sounds about right” (one colleague intentionally planned her wedding on a bye week of fiancé’s adopted team).

The people of the metropolitan area of Atlanta further revealed their passions for college football this year when it was announced that taxpayers would pony up $300 million in tax revenues to contribute to the construction of an entirely new retractable roofed Georgia Dome in order to continue to have a state of the art facility to host the SEC Championship (among other events), despite the fact that the current Georgia Dome is only 20 years old and received another $300 million of renovations just 5 years ago.

SEC fans flock to the Georgia Dome like the Salmon of Capistrano (or a lot of them just live here)

SEC fans flock to the Georgia Dome like the Salmon of Capistrano (or a lot of them just live here)

Adding to this town’s football enthusiasm, is the fact that taxpayers are willing to foot the bill for the construction and improvement of this celestial football monument while in the same year rejecting a one-cent sales tax to drastically improve the transportation grid in one of, if not the worst, trafficked and gridlocked cities in America.  So if you are scoring at home, Atlantians (or ATLiens if you prefer the homegrown Outkast label) are willing to spend 90 to 180 minutes of every single working day sitting in traffic if it means they can remain America’s Capital of College Football.  The ball is in your court Columbus, Ohio and Eugene, Oregon…but I don’t see you making this level of commitment to the cause. Continue reading

Diaries of a Law Student Sports Fan

By David Berlin

There’s a scene in the HBO comedy The Life and Times of Tim where someone turns on the lights in a strip club, and all of a sudden the beautiful sexy girls are revealed to be overweight, with C-section scars, cigarette burns, and loads of bad makeup.

That’s kind of how I feel about this year’s NCAA Tournament. Last year, Penn State miraculously won the Big Ten Tournament, went on to the NCAA Tournament, and I was drunk with enthusiasm. This year, I’ve got nobody to root for and the tournament just seems nasty. All I’m seeing are scandals, one year rent-a-players, and porous 2 seeds.

But that’s the thing about attending a school like Penn State – it’s perennially good at football but only good at basketball once in a while. I was just talking to my friend who went to Syracuse for undergrad and he was saying how great it is to see his team in the Sweet 16 again. If ‘Cuse gets to the Final Four, he’s got an excuse to meet up with all his college buddies. I’m jealous.  There are only so many times a man can yell “WE ARE PENN STATE” in the mirror with no other fellow Nittany Lion fans around to join in. Continue reading