We can all agree that USA Today is essentially America’s lowest common denominator newspaper, can we not?
It isn’t that USA Today is completely fake news. It’s more like no news at all, or at least very little. And it’s exceedingly rare to read anything in there that comes off as smart news.
Or smart opinion.
We’re not just talking about the front page, either, or the op-ed page. You can’t get much more dumbed-down than the sports page at USA Today.
After all, Dan Wolken’s drivel can be found there.
Wolken is the guy who whinged his way into being challenged to a debate by then-Washington State (and current Mississippi State) coach Mike Leach, a debate he dodged because Leach would have humiliated him. He also managed to get himself ratioed by ultimate ESPN nice guy Scott Van Pelt in January over the issue of college football teams braving the COVID paranoidemic:
I didn't play for an SEC football team. I wear masks, I don't go out into crowded places. I followed suggested protocols.
I "ended up getting it."
— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) January 11, 2021
And then there was the outrageous accusation that Oklahoma State’s review of race relations within its athletic department following the controversy surrounding football coach Mike Gundy having been photographed wearing a One America News Network T-shirt was itself poisoned by racism because the athletic director and deputy AD, who led the review, are white. Wolken was rightly tarred and feathered by the entire Oklahoma State athletic community for that, most notably by head basketball coach Mike Boynton, who is black. He also slurred Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney as an out-of-touch white multimillionaire after a minor racial kerfuffle involving an assistant coach and a walk-on player, and tweet-bitched at Alabama’s basketball coach over his COVID mask etiquette during the NCAA tournament this spring. There are endless other examples.
Wolken might not be the worst of the sports scribes at USA Today — his colleague Christine Brennan probably set back the cause of female sports journalists 75 years when she claimed that the Big Ten’s decision to play ball in the 2020 season marked the worst day in its history. Yo Christine, you ever heard of Larry Nasser or Jerry Sandusky?
But for the sheer volume of consistently moronic takes, he’s hard to beat.
And when LSU shocked the college football world by pirating Notre Dame’s head coach Brian Kelly away, it was time for Wolken to fly his freak flag:
ESPN or any other television network better think twice about spending billions of dollars on a television product where coaches would rather chase big contracts for themselves than helping the unpaid amateurs etch their names in the history books. If the potential participants don’t care, why should anyone else?
For those who say you can’t blame Kelly for accepting a contract from LSU that is expected to be well north of $10 million per year, that’s bollocks. There is nobody to blame but Kelly for a classless, gutless exit before the kids he recruited to Notre Dame even know whether they’ll have the privilege of playing for a national championship.
By making this move now, Kelly should be a pariah in his profession, never thought of the same way again. He doesn’t care at all about those players, and whatever respect he had earned for his stewardship of the Notre Dame program over the last dozen years has been flushed down the toilet. He should forever be known as little more than a snake and a mercenary.
And yet, the larger story here is about a sport that is speeding toward the edge of an economic cliff while functioning in a manner that fundamentally devalues its core product.
Oh, the sanctimony.
Sure, it has to hurt if you’re a Notre Dame fan that Kelly is leaving for LSU. Here’s the problem: the week after Thanksgiving is when the coaching carousel spins, because that’s when the regular season is over and it’s when contracts often come up.
And in two weeks there’s an early signing period for recruits, and if you don’t have a head coach in place for that you’re putting yourself behind the eight ball.
Wolken’s piece does a lot of whining about how Kelly is running out on his team when they could make the playoffs. Except Notre Dame needs a ton of help to make the playoffs. Right now they’re sixth in the playoff standings, and their regular season is over. It would take a Rube Goldberg contraption of upsets in conference championship games to put the Irish in the playoffs. Everybody knows that it’s not likely to happen. Hell, even if Cincinnati, who’s third right now, loses the AAC championship to Houston they’ve still got one more win than Notre Dame and beat the Irish head to head.
They aren’t making the playoffs. This is hypothetical stuff.
Is Wolken saying that Kelly, whose new contract at LSU will pay him $95 million over the next 10 years, can’t take his new job because the playoffs might come calling in some fantasyland scenario?
Or is he saying that Kelly has to wait until next week to take it?
If that’s his message, then what about the players and recruits at both schools who are making decisions about what they’re going to do for next year? They have to be kept in the dark for a whole week? What if Notre Dame’s recruits are less interested in the school if they won’t be playing for Kelly? If they want to enroll in college in January to get a jump on school and spring practice, shouldn’t they know as early as possible whether or not the coach will be there?
And you can’t sit on something like this for a week. News leaks out. Should Kelly screw around for a week dodging questions about going to LSU while he wastes time that could be spent putting together a coaching staff and calling recruits? How is that fair to Notre Dame’s 23 commitments or coaches, much less LSU’s players, coaches, and recruits?
Either Wolken is saying coaches can’t move until the playoffs are over, which is a pretty un-American restraint of trade (he’s suggested on Twitter that an act of Congress be initiated to solve this problem, seriously) or he’s saying the entire system of college football recruiting has to be rejiggered to make him feel better.
So far Kelly hasn’t stolen any of his Notre Dame recruits and brought them to LSU. New USC coach Lincoln Riley has dragged multiple players from the recruiting class he was assembling at Oklahoma to La-La Land.
Nobody’s saying this isn’t a tough thing. But Brian Kelly left because despite the fact he’s won more than Knute Rockne did at Notre Dame, the game has changed and it’s questionable whether you can get enough talent at Notre Dame to overcome the monsters in the SEC to win a national championship. That isn’t going to change this week, next week, or next year, and Kelly is entitled to make that decision about his future.
Regardless of what Dan Wolken thinks.
So you’ll know, Wolken also whined this week about something else:
As of this moment, all 12 college football openings that have been filled in this cycle have hired white men
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) November 30, 2021
This at a time when Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, whose name has been one of the hottest on the market this year, signed a 10-year, $95 million extension. And when Penn State’s James Franklin made a similar move. Then there’s Baylor’s Dave Aranda, who’s of Mexican ancestry; Aranda opted to stay in Waco with a big raise and extension despite interest from several big programs.
College football is racist because Aranda, Tucker, and Franklin stayed put? What’s he going to say when Kelly’s defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman succeeds him — or, if Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell gets the Notre Dame job, when Freeman gets the Cincinnati gig? (Freeman was Fickell’s defensive coordinator for the Bearcats last year.)
And yet USA Today keeps this clown around. Which tells you that according to their lowest common denominator standard, he’s swell.
Stupid woke takes by newspaper sports columnists are hardly the worst thing going in America. But this is one more reason why an industry broken enough to continue employing people like this can’t be erased fast enough by the market.
Don’t believe anything you read in the newspaper. Not on the front page, not on the sports page. The comics might yet be called upon to salvage its credibility.