It's time to hear from the wise and good-looking readers of this column, and who better to lead off than the appreciative fellow who read my Thanksgiving doggerel and unsubscribed from my newsletter in protest.
"No!" he wrote. "You've become Steve Rushin. Take me off this list!"
Reader Matt Ryan is a little less breathless but no less passionate in taking exception to my dissing of Notre Dame last week. "Losing records and long offseasons for Notre Dame are good things," I wrote. "Anything that hastens the day when NBC decides to abandon its contract to show Notre Dame games is a good thing."
"I appreciate anyone's rooting against the national favorites (i.e., the Cowboys, Yankees and Notre Dame)," Ryan writes. But "you have been a fantastic proponent of reform in college athletics, so I would think Notre Dame would be one of your favorites!"
He then goes on to cite Notre Dame's strong points on this score: The school has direct presidential oversight of the athletic department, which is integrated into the university rather than being a separate entity; has embraced Title IX enthusiastically, leading to excellence in women's sports; enforces academic standards for athletes higher than those required by the NCAA; graduates athletes in all sports at high rates; doesn't maintain athletic dorms or dining halls and doesn't provide easy classes for athletes.
"It would seem that if these types of practices were adopted by the community of universities at large," Ryan writes, "it would constitute fairly major reform. It's fine with me if you want to cheer against Notre Dame and even if you celebrate that in your column ... That's sports. And it's fun. What I do object to is your hypocrisy in writing one day in favor of integrity in college sports, then the next day writing that what's bad for Notre Dame is good for college sports."
I haven't researched the accuracy of all of Ryan's statements about Notre Dame, but they sound more or less right to me, and he makes good points. Except that I don't think, rereading that item from last week, that I wrote that what's bad for Notre Dame is good for college sports. I was merely being a fan, sick of seeing Notre Dame on my TV, dancing on the grave of their season.
As Ryan pointed out to me in a follow-up e-mail, Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham didn't do much for the Irish likability cause Saturday night during the team's 57-7 win over Stanford. Willingham said coaching against Stanford, where he was employed before going to South Bend, was "difficult because there are so many fine young men I have a great deal of respect for." This was shortly after he'd called a fake punt in the fourth quarter, leading by 50.
A couple of Tulane alums reacted to my interview with Scott Cowen, the university's president and a leading voice calling for reform in college athletics.
"It is funny how the wheel gets reinvented over and over," writes Bill Leifer, a medical doctor who attended in the late '60s. "Tulane is very strong academically. A few years before I was there in pre-med, they decided that sports had too much emphasis, and they needed to require all players to perform well academically in an academic major. So they disallowed the physical education major. The team immediately went downhill ... The alums began to complain. The year that I left (1969), they reinstituted the physical education major. Within two years they were playing in the Liberty Bowl.
"They need to decide what they want. If they are losing $7 million per year, they should deemphasize it, reemphasize academics as their "identity" and forget the complaints of alumni, unless the contributions are making up for the fiscal losses and then some. They dont need to keep recycling this idea."
Richard Parisi, who writes that he's an alum and season-ticket holder, is even tougher.
"Scott Cowen is a big-time hypocrite," he writes. "Late last year and into the first half of this year he engineered high-level university deliberations, which he referred to and still refers to as a 'review,' to have Tulane drop down from NCAA Division I-A to Division III, and he did so in total secret for months, even while coaches were recruiting and trying to sell Tulane football to prospects in the wake of a bowl season. Only a news leak in mid-April that stirred alumni and community political leaders to protest and apply political pressure prevented him from being able to carry out his objective."
He continues: "If Scott Cowen had been honest with everyone as to his philosophy concerning athletics, even though I would still find his actions to have been utterly paternalistic, arrogant and condescending, and I disagree with his view that the benefit to a university of having winning Division I-A football is overstated, I would still have to respect his forthrightness on the issue ...
"I have come to feel that Cowen's anti-BCS campaign is not much more than a ploy to distract peoples' attention and get them focused on something about which it's very hard to disagree. Everyone at Tulane hates the BCS. Many fans of large state school teams hate the BCS, too. Big deal. His words to the contrary, what Cowen really wants is a handout from the universities who are actually investing in athletics and generating the revenue to help keep Tulane athletics afloat financially while the university maintains its ever-so-tepid stance on trying to win."
Carl D. Orr responds to my complaint about Detroit and Dallas always getting a home game on Thanksgiving Day, which seems to favor them, by pointing out an interesting fact: "Over the long term," he writes, "the Cowboys and Lions have actually been less successful on Thanksgiving Day than they have in their other home games. I calculated it a few years ago and each team's winning percentage on Turkey Day was lower than their all-time winning percentage." Todd Greanier made a similar point at ProFootballProspectus.com last year.
But that might be misleading. The Thanksgiving Day games are marquee games, like Monday night games, and it seems to me that the NFL makes an effort at scheduling good teams as the visitors. Just one example: The Packers used to play in Detroit every Thanksgiving, but Vince Lombardi put a stop to that after 1963. The Packers played in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day in 1970, three years after Lombardi left, but didn't get back to Detroit to play their traditional rivals on Thanksgiving until 1984, when, after stinking throughout the '70s, they'd finally put together a few decent seasons in a row.
The Cowboys' Turkey Day opponents over the last 10 years, including this year but not this weekend, have an aggregate winning percentage of .619, way better than the roughly .500 percentage you'd expect if the schedule were made randomly, which is to say if the division-rival Cardinals had been in Dallas on the holiday more recently than in 1985.
On the other hand, the Lions' Thanksgiving visitors have an aggregate winning percentage of .471. More research is needed here, but until it's done, the Dolphins' whipping of the Cowboys Thursday notwithstanding, it's best not to bet on the visitors on Thanksgiving Day.
- - - - - - - - - - - -