God help me, I'm still an insane fan
Good afternoon to everybody but Ryan Day, and thanks for your continued support of Extra Points.
I didn't go to Journalism school, but I know enough about it to know that they tell you that there's no cheering in the press box pretty early in the curriculum. Serious Professional Journalists are supposed to be objective, bereft of fandom and emotional attachments. You take that childhood fandom, and you drown it in the bathtub as quickly as you possibly can. After all, we are not supposed to care who wins or what happens on the field, only that it happens quickly enough for us to file before deadline, so we can make it back to the Marriott hotel bar before closing time.
Of course, objectivity is impossible, because we're human beings.
Regardless of what professional standards dictate, major college football press boxes are full of homers, just usually homers that have the good sense to not actually cheer in the press box or tweet things like JIM HARBAUGH FOR PRISON during a game. They have to be marginally more subtle.
While this is certainly not true for every reporter there, recruiting message boards are full of writers who practically serve as extensions of the university recruiting department, a trend that I think is becoming even more pronounced in the portal/NIL era. Other writers may not care who wins a game, but very much care about protecting their friends or sources. And I know veteran reporters who will swear on their FWAA membership cards that they're neutral, but still very much prefer to cover teams that are winning. After all, nobody buys a book from a beat writer about a 3-9 season. Success sells subscriptions.
I learned to write while working at SB Nation, a website that used to have great college sports coverage until management decided to pivot to producing content for millionaires with 'Hate Has No Home Here' signs in their all-white neighborhoods. SBN believed that it would be more honest to throw any pretense of objectivity out the window. We were told to write for fans, while clearly identifying ourselves as fans. We would seek to be accurate, fair, and interesting, yes. But not objective.
That approach does allow for a certain kind of honesty since you aren't worried about placating a coach, agent or administrator. But it also creates limitations. The uncouth embrace of fandom was used by plenty of administrators as a reason for never giving us access. I learned to file FOIAs, after all, only because schools almost never called me back once they learned where I worked. I had to develop a writing style that doesn't easily fit into most other outlets.
I obviously don't work there anymore. Extra Points covers a very different beat than whatever I wrote about at SB Nation. While this isn't a scoops-focused publication and probably never will be, I really do need to talk to administrators and industry professionals to write many of my stories. Even though I've been a professional sportswriter for a decade now, I still feel like I am only slowly being introduced into Polite Professional Society: the type of reporter that goes to conventions and conferences and nods solemnly at Calls To Reform College Sports on various panel discussions.
I don't think I'll ever be fully comfortable in that world, because I do not have the credentials, the byline, or the self-assurance. But I also know part of that is because, despite my best efforts, I have not managed to extinguish those last burning embers of fandom. I am an Ohio State football fan. This is not a secret.
This means, even as a Serious Professional Journalist, I'm a little bit insane. Even before this weekend.
Last year, I read a book given to me for Christmas by my wise and successful brother-in-law called A Guide To The Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine. A central theme of this book was the importance of getting off the Hedonic Treadmill.
My formal philosophy education consists of this book, a B in one college class and watching The Good Place, so forgive me if I mess this up, but I understood the Hedonic Treadmill as the cycle where one returns to a baseline level of happiness, despite major life changes.
The risk here is that one can lose the ability to find joy and happiness for certain levels of success or external rewards. The child who grew up with the Game Boy Color may now get bored with it and insist he can only be happy with a Nintendo Switch. In 2021, I was excited to have 4,000 subscribers. In 2022, I have 11,000+ and worry if that number dips by a handful. This is not a recipe for human happiness.
This is a core problem with Ohio State fandom. I reckon I was old enough to really start paying attention to college football in 1996. Ohio State has won two national titles in that span, 13 Big Ten titles, three other national title appearances, and countless major bowl bids. The Buckeyes have been excellent for nearly my entire life.
You know who would love to have that level of success? Almost every single other FBS program.
I know I am not the only Ohio State fan who has not enjoyed watching a lot of Ohio State football. With almost every spread in the double digits, the only acceptable outcome is not only a victory, but a blowout, especially if Georgia, Alabama and Clemson are blowing teams out that week. A 22-point win over Wisconsin brings only marginal relief, not joy. The regular season may be punctuated with sporadic excitement from highlights and the occasional unexpected blowout, but when the consensus expectations are so high, a win is simply not enough.
The expectations, as explained by Ryan Day himself, are threefold. For the team to beat Michigan, to win Big Ten championships, and to compete for national titles.
This season, Ohio State went 11-1. They might sneak into the Playoff somehow, but the first two goals failed. The team will probably play in the Rose Bowl or some other New Year's Six Bowl, and half a dozen starters will probably sit out. It would be a towering achievement for almost any other program in college football, and given this year's expectations, this year's talent, and this particular season, it will feel hollow.
And here's the thing: I know how crazy this sounds.
I know Ryan Day is 45-5 at Ohio State. I know he's made the CFP twice, and might even make it a third time. I know that unlike, uh, most other Ohio State coaches, he's also mostly avoided embarrassing scandals.
I cover the business of college athletics! I know, as a professional, how challenging it can be on an administrative, political, even spiritual level for programs to balance skyrocketing expectations with reality. I know, as somebody who has written extensively about college football for over a decade, that games are not played on spreadsheets and that nobody could possibly expect to win titles every season.
I've been to Sunday School! I've been to therapy! I completely intellectually understand the concept of reasonable expectations, about not letting comparison be the thief of joy, the whole thing.
Even after a day to think about it, I still would prefer Ryan Day to decide to take the Chargers job or whatever and go do something else.
The standard is the standard, and Ohio State isn't meeting it right now. You can be accused of a lot of things in Ohio....you can be slow, like the Buckeyes were during some of the Jim Tressel era. You can be stubborn, like they were during the Urban Meyer era. But you cannot be soft. And that's the current charge facing the Day administration.
I worry about a lot of things in this job, probably too many. One of my biggest concerns, whenever I fire up Google Docs and start typing a newsletter, is whether I am properly in touch with my audience.
This is a real struggle for professional writers. If you do this gig for long enough, there will always be a temptation to write for other colleagues, for sources, for award panels, rather than your core readers. You start worrying about stuff that your readers don't care about, and you run the risk of going down the road of irrelevancy.
I feel like remaining in touch with my readership at Extra Points is a particular challenge because I don't write for just one group. I write for industry professionals. I write for college students. I write for other media members. I write for conference commissioners, athletic directors and lawyers. But I also write for thousands of just regular fans. People with Reddit accounts, 247 subscriptions, non-.edu email addresses.
And these are the folks who support this entire industry, that make it possible for there to even be athletic directors and conference commissioners and NIL collectives and everything else.
Would I be happier if I could finally free myself from the tyranny of still caring who wins an Ohio State football game? On the balance, I think I probably would. Would I become more acceptable in certain halls of power in this industry? Almost certainly. Would I be a better writer?
Maybe this is my irrational brain talking, trying to justify ridiculous behavior to myself. But deep down, I don't think I would be a better writer. I don't think I'd be a better reporter, even if it meant I'd be a better connected one.
But it's also probably moot, because I don't think I can change. The Ohio is too strong in the bloodstream, and I'm afraid it is incurable. No amount of research papers, or thoughtful research, or careful analysis can kill the pre-workout fueled monster deep inside that just wants to tweet that Ryan Day is John Cooper with a beard in the middle of a Northwestern game that Ohio State is leading by 13 points.
God help me.
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