Blogs > The Back Page

The musings of a Detroit-area sportswriter in the digital age.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swine flu means business

Pistons fans being outnumbered by Cavs faithful at The Palace Sunday ... not a big shocker. But reading that Mexican soccer fans were barred from the stadiums their teams play in — that was quite a surprise.
On a weekend where many in the United States admired American football's NFL Draft, the right of passage where teams add players to a league which derives much of its riches from television contracts which encourage fans to sit at home and watch, the swine flu forced fans to watch futbol games at home in Mexico.

Swine flu leaves Mexican soccer stadiums empty
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Thousands of Mexican soccer fans had to forgo a beloved tradition Sunday, forced by a swine flu epidemic to cheer from their living room couches instead of the sun-soaked seats at packed stadiums.
To the south of Mexico City, the Pumas team took on the Chivas at the picturesque Olympic Stadium, decorated by muralist Diego Rivera, but its sold-out, volcanic-rock bleachers were empty. They tied at 1. Also Sunday, America faced the Tecos team in Mexico City’s enormous Estadio Azteca as fans watched the action on television. Only a few people milled around outside the stadium, with most of the city’s 20 million inhabitants hunkered down at home. Most of those who ventured out wore surgical masks, which were being handed out by soldiers on street corners. On Saturday, Pachuca and Cruz Azul, whose team members are based in Mexico City, also lacked the live cheers and boos they normally hear when the clubs played in the central state of Hidalgo. National soccer officials decided to ban fans from the three matches after health experts recommended that citizens avoid large concentrations of people in which the virus could spread. For the Chivas-Pumas game, that meant reimbursing more than $500,000 to 50,000 ticket holders and losing more money in concessions, especially beer sales. Soccer stadiums on Sunday are usually like enormous open-air cantinas. “Yes, it affects us, but ... it is more important to prevent the spread of the disease,” Mario Trejo, athletic director for the Pumas football club, told Mexico’s Milenio TV on Saturday. “We don’t want to stress the economic element as if it were the most important, because it’s not. Health is more important ... preventing a death. We don’t want to give the idea to our fans that we are more worried about this than about their health.” A top Mexico City pro baseball team — Los Diablos Rojos or Red Devils — on Sunday said it would play three games next week away from its Mexico City stadium. The games will be played in Coahuila in the north of the country.

Friday, April 24, 2009

NFL Draft day finally here

I'm anxiously awaiting the draft Saturday afternoon to see what the Lions do. Not so much because I care who they take, but because I won't have to listen to people talk about who the Lions should take. I've gotten a good impression of the Lions' new braintrust, so it's not hard for me to sit back and wait for good things to happen.
We have known for four months Detroit has the first overall pick and five of the first 82 selections, and we've known nearly as long who the frontrunners are. Get on with it already! I've heard the same things for several weeks now. These players could turn out to be bad NFL players, but I doubt the public pundits would look at time spent talking about their draft status as a wasted effort.
I have felt in the last month or so like I'm the only person who doesn't run draft scenarios through my head. I've thought of myself as an avid sports fan for years now, but when it comes to football, I'm pretty hands off, compared to my brethren (except for the content that goes in the paper and fantasy football).
I'll just be glad when the day's over, not just because I can go home, but because the Lions will have finally made their selections and all the Draft prognostications can finally cease.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Every page counts

By now you've surely noticed a difference in size throughout the week. We have the usual six-page layout Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and six or eight pages for Friday and Saturday. Everyone knows the Sunday edition is the biggest, but the last couple weeks we've been getting 16 page sections, able to rival the size of the Sunday product and give readers the same amount of content they're used to seeing on Sunday.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


There was an item missing from our pages the other day that I wanted to share about a North Carolina high school basketball phenom named John Wall and some exuberant fans.
I don't know what college recruiting was like prior to the Internet, but I know now that I can Google someone's name and find out their high school stats with the quickness. I can even watch their YouTube highlight reel — which is great.
The NCAA has decided, however, that fan sites encouraging recruits to lean one way or the other, are against the rules. An NC State freshman began a Facebook group called "John Wall PLEASE come to NC STATE!!!!." The industrious frosh was met with disdain from his own school, I assume because the NCAA could bring the hammer down on the school. The university said it would take action against the freshman, Taylor Moseley, if he didn't cease and desist.

(Excerpted from an April 10 Associated Press story)
More than just cheerleading boards, the NCAA says the sites are an attempt to influence the college choice of a recruit.

This all sounds pretty harsh for a guy expressing his fandom. How much more of an influence does a site like this really have on a recruit than an in-home visit or a campus tour? Isn't it in the kid's best interest to go somewhere he's obviously wanted? Who says he's even got time to look at this stuff?
It should be noted similar sites were created by fans of basketball powers such as Duke, UNC and Kentucky, according to The Associated Press.
Of all the influences out there, the NCAA is really worried about this? Come on.
I've attached the story if you want to read it in its entirety. It appears the real story may lie in a more important civil rights issue created by the university.

Student warned over Facebook site wooing prospect
AP Education Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — College sports fans, be careful of the company you keep on Facebook.
You might get yourself — and the program you support — in trouble.
That was the lesson this week for Taylor Moseley, a North Carolina State freshman who expressed a common-enough opinion on campus when he started the Facebook group called “John Wall PLEASE come to NC STATE!!!!”
More than 700 people signed up for the group encouraging Wall — a local standout and the nation’s No. 1 basketball recruit — to pick the Wolfpack by national signing day next week.
But the NCAA says such sites, and dozens more like them wooing Wall and other top recruits, violate its rules. More than just cheerleading boards, the NCAA says the sites are an attempt to influence the college choice of a recruit.
Moseley got a cease and desist letter from N.C. State’s compliance director, Michelle Lee, warning of “further action” if he failed to comply. In an interview Friday, Lee said that people who act as boosters but fail to follow recruiting guidelines could face penalties such as being denied tickets or even being formally “disassociated” from the athletic program.
Adam Kissel, director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said the NCAA can impose rules on its member colleges. But universities — especially public ones — can’t enforce them if it means punishing students in any way for expressing an opinion.
“A student doesn’t lose First Amendment rights because of a contract the university signs with (the NCAA),” he said.
Moseley, the student, didn’t respond to a request for comment, but the group has been renamed “Bring a National Title back to NC STATE!” and features a photo of Wall.
Though Lee sent Moseley the tough warning, even she finds the rule exasperating. The NCAA, she says, simply isn’t keeping up with the technology reality.
“I think nationally the NCAA needs to address further Facebook and how these groups play a part in recruiting,” she said. “Is it realistic for us to be able to monitor them? What harm is a group like this causing? But as the legislation stands right now, this is the position we have to take.”
NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said the group considers its rules “technology neutral.” A Facebook page is simply a high-tech way to try to influence recruits.
The NCAA’s concern is “intrusions into a high school student’s life when they’re trying to decide where to go to college,” he said. He said the NCAA is keeping up with technology, noting new rules on text-messaging from coaches.
Christianson said the NCAA expects institutions to act as N.C. State did, reaching out to the creators of such groups to “educate” them about the rules. He added he was not aware the NCAA had ever initiated any action related to a Facebook group or notified an institution about one.
But dozens of Facebook groups are still up in plain site for current recruits, including Wall, and other top undecided basketball players such as Xavier Henry and Lance Stephenson.
Wall, a 6-4 playmaker, averaged 21 points, seven rebounds and nine assists for Raleigh Word of God this past season. He’s the No. 1-ranked recruit in the country by both and, and among the last top players yet to commit. A Facebook search reveals groups including “Bring John Wall to Baylor,” “John Wall Belongs at UNC” and “John Wall, come to DUKE!!”
There are at least four groups encouraging Wall to pick Kentucky. Through an athletic department spokesman, UK head of compliance Sandy Bell declined to comment on whether the department has taken any action in response to such groups.
Facebook did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
Kissel, of the education rights group, and Aden Fine of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that while the NCAA — a private entity — could pursue sanctions against a student like Moseley (such as denying him access to an entirely NCAA-run event), it was troubling that the letter and threatened sanction came from the university.
“The school is potentially finding themselves in a tricky situation, because of the NCAA rules, but that doesn’t mean public universities can censor lawful speech,” Fine said.
Christianson dismissed the free speech argument, saying courts have upheld the NCAA’s right to set recruiting rules for members.
“We don’t see it as a free speech issue. What we do see it as is a recruiting issue,” he said. “We want to be sure that we limit that level of intrusion that comes into their lives.”

Thursday, April 09, 2009

No E-editions without E-lectricity

One overlooked aspect of the Detroit Free Press and News' switch to online editions in the first part of the week, is not one I have heard thrown out there. The other reasons, such as "I like to read the newspaper in the morning with my coffee/breakfast," or "I just like reading it in print better than sitting in front of the computer" are both very good reasons to me.
I had overlooked one of the most crucial parts of the argument: You can't read a paper if your power goes out because you can't get on your computer! I'm tech savvy enough to handle one, but I don't yet have a laptop, and it's worked out fine for me this far. So, while in my brisk, dark home Monday, I not only couldn't get caught up on things on TV and radio before heading to work, I couldn't read the paper online. It threw my day off a bit, and I was left feeling uniformed. All this on the eve of MSU's big national championship game.
Rest assured, power was restored by the time I returned to my cave that night. I had plenty of time to catch up on the day's highlights and even get a head start on Tuesday's news cycle, just in case I found myself being forced out of the loop by unforeseen obstacles again.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The perfect Final Four storm

If your copy of The OP looked different Saturday, you may have realized there was quite a bit more sports coverage than normal. An 18-page special section to mark the Final Four in Detroit accompanied a regular news section and an abbreviated sports section.
Sometimes our special sections can be hard to find, but this one was front and center, so we hoped you enjoyed it.
The fact MSU defied the odds to make the Final Four in their home state really helped make this section what it was, because a section with, say, Kansas, in place of the Spartans wouldn't be as large, interesting or, realistically (because this is a business after all), as interesting to purchase. Every one is getting into the spirit, but it really wouldn't be the same if the Spartans hadn't made it out of the Midwest Regional.
It's been a stretch for us to get the Spartans into the paper because they've had some late games in this tournament run, but Monday night is going to be the toughest, a national championship game which starts at 9:21. Rest assured we'll have it, front and center, win or lose.
It surely has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us to be able to follow the Spartans back to their home-away-from-home (Ford Field). Hopefully you kept your special section to commemorate, but if not, there may be another collector's item on your doorstep Tuesday morning.

Friday, April 03, 2009

April madness

UConn behemoth Hasheem Thabeet picked the perfect day, April 1 (also known in some circles as April Fool's Day) to post a message on his Twitter page "informing" fans he had failed a drug test and therefore wouldn't be able to compete in this weekend's Final Four in Detroit.
As you might have guessed, the message was a hoax, but it proves a point people seem to have forgotten over the years: Don't believe everything you read on the Internet. Somewhere in time, the interwebs gained this undeniable credibility as we shifted from calling Aunt Sally and photocopying the encyclopedia at the public library to sitting in our underwear and finding out who won the 1978 best actress Oscar. (IMDB tells me it was Diane Keaton in Woody Allen's acclaimed "Annie Hall.")
Use your best judgment and don't be afraid to question what you read, heck, it got me where I am today.