There's no such thing as objective writing. Everybody has biases. Here are some of mine.
I can't be completely objective, because I am a human being. But I can try to be honest and upfront about them.
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I talk to college classes fairly regularly, and one thing that occasionally surprises some of those students is when I tell them that I don’t think objectivity exists in sportswriting. I believe all writing is colored by the perspective and experiences of the author. What we decide to write about, what our editors decide to assign, what we decide to emphasize, who we talk to, etc…is on some level, a product of us. We are not robots. If we try to be, we may end up missing the mark and failing to serve our readers even more.
I try very hard to be accurate. I try very hard to be fair. And I try very hard to be honest, especially with you, my readers.
In that spirit, since this newsletter has added thousands of new readers over the last few months that may not be familiar with my work prior to Extra Points, I thought it might help to try and lay some of that stuff out. Explain a little more about who I am, and some of my core college athletic principles. You don’t need to agree with all of those! It would be boring if we all did! But perhaps knowing some of this will help provide more context to help you enjoy Extra Points even more.
So who the heck am I?
I grew up in Licking County, Ohio, not too far from Columbus. It’s home to Denison University, a D-III school located in Granville, Ohio. My dad went to the California Institute of the Arts, and then later painted factories for a living before going on disability. My mom started at NYU, dropped out to marry my dad, and then as an adult, finished her degree at Ohio State-Newark, then Ohio State’s main campus…and then never stopped going to school. She eventually got a Ph.D. and taught Educational Leadership at East Carolina University, before passing away in 2016.
I attended American University in Washington D.C., left to go on an LDS mission, transferred to Ohio State-Newark, and then finished at Ohio State. My wife graduated from BYU. We met in Chicago, which is where we currently live. I have two little girls, ages 6 and 2. I blame them for my typos.
I don’t have a journalism degree. I actually studied Political Science. Prior to getting into sportswriting, I was a public school teacher, a political organizer (if this matters: for Blue Dog-ish Democratic candidates), and a Human Resources professional. Much of my college coursework and professional experience, in at least some capacity, touched education.
So I’ve had experience with massive state schools, tiny liberal arts schools, big religious schools, and almost everything in between. A major takeaway from this life experience has been a belief that college is good and worth defending. I’ve seen the positive impact that Ohio State-Newark has on Licking County, providing educational and cultural opportunities to folks who might not otherwise have access to them. I saw how higher education helped provide a chance for my mom, who immigrated to the US from São Paulo when she was a kid, to obtain financial security she might not otherwise have had.
I think it’s a positive thing that we have so many different schools, with different missions, serving different populations. We cannot have healthy college athletics without healthy colleges, and I think that’s worth fighting for.
This is a big reason why I care about the finances and structure of college athletics.
I believe the athletic department should still serve the greater mission of the school. That requires school administrators to be uncomfortably honest with themselves about what students they really hope to serve, and how their athletic department really helps them serve those students.
I believe college athletic fiscal restraint and good governance is important not just because it allows for more flexibility that could improve athletic outcomes, but because the mission of the actual university is so critical. If a university seeks to primarily serve, say, first-generation students, or lower-income students, then burdening those students with heavy athletic fees to pursue athletic excellence may undermine that mission. If a school hopes to use athletics to help promote a certain value system, well, then their athletic department should embody that value system.
Tracking this information is complicated, and I honestly try to be conservative about sweeping financial proclamations. Whether a sport is “profitable” is usually not the right question to ask, especially since nobody is really trying to show a profit. I think a sport, or athletic program, could very well lose a LOT of money and still be a good investment, if it fits in the values and mission of the school, just like a classics department or a jazz band. It depends on the school and the situation, and ought to be investigated, not treated like a sacred cow.
There are many things about college athletics that are not working right now.
I do not believe this enterprise has ever been pure. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading and writing a lot about college football history, it’s that we’ve been fighting about amateurism, the awkward marriage of athletics and the academy, player safety, etc, since the 1800s. The parameters of those debates have changed, but the conflict has remained. Anybody that tries to wax rhapsodic about the good ol’ days hasn’t read enough.
It is certainly not pure now. There’s a lot about this current system that is not fair, just, or even efficient. I’m skeptical that reform efforts, no matter how well-intentioned, can ever truly fix that, and I’m also skeptical that the entire college athletic framework can get “blown up” and replaced by something else, even if that might be the best policy outcome. Inertia is a powerful force.
But I also still like college sports. And I write this newsletter for an audience that does too.
I like cracking jokes on Twitter on fall Saturdays. I like how athletics can be a truly meaningful way for a school to engage with the local community. I like how athletics can provide meaningful opportunities for personal growth, for careers, for friendships. I like watching it! I like being on campus!
I realize that being a thoughtful college football fan requires a degree of cognitive dissonance, especially this year. I realize much of this enterprise is exploitive, corrupt, and should be addressed. I don’t think you have to excuse every flaw in something you like. Maybe that makes me a sell-out, or insufficiently righteous. I’ve been called worse.
I would not love college football any less if the athletes had better health care, more access to economic opportunities, more educational options, and more freedom to be the regular students that they allegedly are. I don’t think it can ever be perfect. But I do think it can be better.
I think all of college athletics matters, not just big budget football
A major pet peeve of mine is that much of higher education reporting focuses on the Ivy League and a handful of other elite schools. A lot of reporters and editors went to Northwestern and Yale and Columbia, but most people don’t go to those places. Focusing just on the biggest and most prominent institutions leaves holes in your coverage. I could go on for 3,000 more words here, but this newsletter is long enough already.
I think that’s true for college athletics as well. There are a lot of people writing about Ohio State and Alabama. But for every Ohio State and Alabama, there are a lot of athletic departments that are NOT Ohio State or Alabama. The bulk of D-1 schools are not behemoths with massive TV contracts. While I still care about the biggest schools, I try to look at stories and trends that impact the bulk of college athletics. I make no apologies for this newsletter writing a lot about D-III, or the WAC, or CAA.
If we are to accept that college athletics has value beyond pure commercial impact, that it can enrich the lives of the participants, improve campus student experiences, build lifelong relationships—which I do—then those principles are true at Ohio Northern, not just Ohio State. Those principles are true for women’s swimming, not just men’s basketball. And that means it’s worth reading and writing about all athletic programs, not just the ones that attract those sweet, sweet pageviews. That’s why this is a newsletter and not a blog. I couldn’t write about non-P5 programs if I depended on web traffic or display ads.
So that's where I’m coming from. Deep in my heart, I believe all this stuff matters. It matters how schools recruit students, how they interact with their local communities, how they pay for their athletic programs, and how they determine and measure success. What happens on a fall Saturday matters, and what happens on a sleepy May conference call matters.
My goal is to channel that belief into creating something you’ll want to read. Some days I’ll want to celebrate something. Some days I’ll want to criticize something. Some days, I’ll want to explain something. Some days, I’ll just want to gawk at something weird. This sport is weird. Colleges are weird!
Let’s try and understand it all a little bit better, together:
Thank you so much for your continued support of Extra Points. Questions, comments, story ideas, business inquiries, bulk-subscription requests and more can be sent to MattBrownOhio@Gmail.com, or to @MattBrownEP on Twitter dot com.