Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pardon the Interruption, But There's a Long Road Ahead

Everyone knows that ESPN is slowly going the way of MTV. What was once a channel for sports news and highlights has largely been replaced by talking, or shouting, heads, sports gossip and cliched puns. But if you do watch, like me, you're probably watching PTI. Whether its the chemistry between Kornheiser and Wilbon, the routine gags, or the general level of knowledge the two possess, it remains a fixture on my DVR. Otherwise, I'm on ESPNews for actual highlights.

Monday, the dynamic duo at PTI apparently disagreed with the tie breaking method used at the Confederations Cup, the same tiebreaker used in all FIFA events (to my knowledge). Today, apparently after receiving a barrage of tweets and e-mails from viewers defending the tiebreak system, they explained that they did understand the tiebreaker, but simply did not like it. Tony noted that not every win is worth as much as another. Wilbon cited the NFL's retreat from point differential in the past, and Tony simply said, "Head-to-head."

Now, let me be clear. Wilbon actually seems to enjoy and follow international football. Unlike Jim Rome and the Tony Reali (not enough stats in football stat boy?) who embrace their rejection of the sport (albeit, at different levels. I actually think Rome may have watched football kill his parents in his infancy), the guys at PTI try. But in discussing their opposition to the tiebreak system they reinforce how long the U.S. has to go before its mainstream sports journalists embrace the sport the way many fans are.

Head-to-head, suggested by Tony, is an impossibility in an international tournament. It is the tiebreaker preferred by the Spanish Liga, over point differential, where teams play home and away over the course of the season. Here, Brazil beat everyone. The United States, Egypt, and Italy, then beat each other in a circle, with Italy actually receiving the worst beating from the pentacampeones. Egypt played Brazil tight, was slaughtered by the States, and beat Italy. Italy beat the States and lost to Egypt in a game where they deserved better. So who deserved to go through in the absence of point differential?

I'm not arguing that point differential is the ideal tiebreaker. What tiebreaker is? But the boys at PTI, normally well-versed in their commentary, seemed to imply replacing the current tiebreak system for a varying value system for wins, related, one would assume, to the team's ranking upon entry into the tournament, or some subjective idea of what an opponent is worth. Unfortunately, everyone knows the world rankings are terribly flawed, and are more often obviously wrong than right.

The guys at PTI had no solutions for the current tiebreak system. On a superficial level, they did their research. That they didn't pose winning solutions wasn't the problem, that they didn't think through their proposed solutions within the context of the tournament, or the particularities of world football is. No one who proposes a playoff system in college football would discuss it without acknowledging the scheduling conflicts. Why then, should we accept nonsensical tiebreak proposals?

While I applaud PTI for caring, understand the time limitations on the show, and am usually excited just to see them cover football, the truth remains that most of the mainstream media either openly hates, doesn't want, or can't seem to understand football. Meanwhile, a growing number of fans do, or are trying to. We've got a long way to go for major news outlets to appreciate and cover football they way it deserves to be covered in this country (I shudder everytime I think about what ESPN's coverage of football will be now that they've lost the rights to the Champions League). It's time more journalists made like Wilbon and at least started trying to understand it. "Soccerheads," as PTI called us, deserve it.

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