“When people think about entertainment in general, they think it has to be fun and pleasurable. But enjoyment doesn’t always mean positive emotions. Sometimes enjoyment is derived by having the negative emotion, and then juxtaposing that with the positive emotion.” - Prabu David, associate professor of communication at Ohio State.
Every August as the day pages of the calendar fall away inexorably toward the date of the first game of the new college football season, fans undergo a kind of “training” for the season ahead that is not too unlike the assassin training montage in the great political thriller “The Parallax View.”
For many fans, they are essentially unconscious to the indoctrination. Little do they know that as they read their Twitter feed, Facebook timeline, browse their favorite football blog sites, endure SportsCenter updates and specials, watch the Big Ten Network road shows, read online newspaper articles about their beloved teams, and the like, their expectations for the season ahead are being ruthlessly shaped through a rigorous, uncoordinated, but nevertheless ritualized, programming.
When I was younger, and this is a while ago, sports information was so painstakingly gradual, if not emphatically delayed. If it was August, the dead zone of yesteryear sports entertainment, the sports pages of my local or any national newspaper, my primary mode of daily information at the time, were mostly filled with simplistic baseball box scores that maybe were accompanied by a 2-3 sentence recap of a game or two, and there were always the transaction listings...you know, that long column with a team name and then a pithy list of those who were hired, fired, traded, cut, injured, whatever, and with absolutely no context provided. No explanations, just listings. Then I’d often go weeks without learning why one thing or another happened, and sometimes I never got the damn story. And that is what accounted for my August sports experience. There were certainly not a lot of detailed articles opining about depth charts for the upcoming football season or predicting the order of all NCAA teams first through whatever. I mean, that would have been hilarious back then. But that has all changed. Nowadays, sports coverage, year ‘round coverage, is nestled deep in the lap of opinion and punditry, and opinion and punditry is deep in the bosom of prognostication.
It’s been this way for quite some while now, more or less since the internet became the locus for hunting and gathering of information. Content is the lifeblood of any entertainment source. Movie theaters need movies. Televisions need television shows. Newspapers need articles. Radio stations need music (or, they once needed music, now they need talk). And the internet? It needs all that shit and tons and megatons more. This increases the flow of information for the average person from, as it was in my youth, a trickle to the present day torrent. The internet changed the flow of information in ways we are yet to fully comprehend, still.
So when I was reading those printed sports pages back in the day I was hardly overwhelmed by information. Quite the contrary, I was starved for information and once I graduated from Iowa I was very often starved for information about Iowa football because I lived, at various times in my post-collegiate life, on the coasts of this country where Iowa was irrelevant as a state, much less a football team. Then about a decade ago I discovered BHGP, as well as other Iowa Hawkeyes focused websites, and I was in heaven. I gobbled up the stories, the discussions, the takes and the love. This was on top of the myriad of sports sites I bookmarked and visited daily online during boring stretches at work in hopes of learning something, ANYTHING, about Iowa football. No longer was I getting the meager trickle from a shallow stream of information, I was now getting the steady flow of a river of homerism. Today, ten years later? It’s become a tsunami and the annual football information waves start crashing the beach and inundating everything in sight, especially right about now.
So, it is with zero shame or guilt that I add to that deluge of Iowa Hawkeyes football opinion and information overflow. Over the years of reading and writing for this blog I have noticed something that is mirrored in the outside world but worth pointing out nevertheless. People, in order to manage their — as media critic Todd Gitlin once wrote — “media-glutted, speed-addicted” lives try to cope with the relentless sensation and non-stop stimuli that is a byproduct of the current media environment by employing strategies for survival. Today, consuming sports coverage is a never-ending quest for novelty masquerading as information but is really nothing more than distraction after distraction, copycat material repackaged and presented as new or improved or just something to get you through the next one minute and thirty-five seconds you have available to read this or that or the other thing. As a result, says Gitlin, we are developing disposable emotions and casual commitments about, pretty much, anything and everything.
What Gitlin is suggesting might sound extreme, and maybe it is. But, maybe it isn’t. But think about it, if you have a daily seismic engagement with information (wading into the massive information overflow that is the byproduct of the hypermedia age in which we now exist) coming at you, you’re not holding tight to any one piece of information. You are having one affair after after the next where you are cheating on the crucial piece of information you just consumed 22 seconds ago by consuming another, and then another after that one, and you can’t have these information daliences fast enough!
In the late 1970s the Iowa Hawkeyes were in search of a new head coach for their perennially losing football team. Hayden Fry, at the time, was coaching North Texas State and putting the finishing touches on a massive turnaround of that fledgling program into a 9-2 season, on the heels of a Top 20 ranking the season before that. Fry was also the athletic director at North Texas and in both of those stellar seasons not a single bowl game came calling. Fry had had enough. He wanted to enjoy the fruits of a winning season, and to be a head coach and nothing more. So he put his resume out there.
The now famous story of Fry’s impression of Iowa goes like this: Iowa’s athletic director at the time was Bump Elliott, and in his effort to lure Fry to Iowa he sent him some rolls of film showing a handful of Hawkeyes games in hopes Fry would notice the large fan following despite the many years of losing. Fry watched with with his long-time deputy Bill Brashier, and was in awe as the crowd erupted whenever the Hawkeyes earned a first down. Said Fry years later, “I got to thinkin’, ‘My gosh, what would happen if we ever scored a touchdown?!”
So, yeah. In those days stimulation was something you had to get up off your duff to go find, and then take what you could get, and fight to keep it. And thus emotions were anything but disposable, and commitments were not remotely casual. These days all you have to do is turn on your phone, which you never turn off anyway, and there is a 20-foot tidal wave of distractions ready to crush you.
Now, before you read this as me yelling at people to get off my lawn or screaming at clouds, hear me out. I am not here to make some generational argument for or against one generation or another. I am, instead, intrigued by the manner in which today’s fan handles the oversupply of information, and in particular the storm surge of prognostication.
Just this past week, advertised and touted on Twitter of course, I read at least five national pundits and their conference-by-conference predictions for the upcoming season. I am 100% certain these chuckleheads did not spend a single second in Iowa City or the myriad of college towns where the teams in question reside. I tee-hee’d my way through all the pithy rationales for why Iowa would finish here or there. None of them included any specificity about the team, the matchups, or anything that could be described as insight. It was just cliched gibberish, and it told me much more about brand identification than it did about football.
These prediction pieces serve a really interesting purpose. They are not intended, I don’t believe, to be informational. They lack any sincerity, and one was teased on Twitter with the following tweet/link:
“My preseason ranking of all 130 FBS teams, which will prove to be 100 percent accurate.”
The sarcasm font is not needed. These rankings too often are nothing more than an unsatisfying, superficial rehash, at best. But, again, the predictions are not intended to enlighten but to stimulate, to tickle the ego of the fanbases of these teams and to do little more than drive traffic, if even for a few seconds, to their home site. In reality, they’re like a catcall on a New York City side street as you hustle your way home. “Hey good lookin! Woo hoo!” And it doesn’t stop there. The onslaught is endless and remarkably lacking in intellectual staying power.
So, in reading BHGP and other forum-based Iowa fan sites I’ve noticed some tactics employed by fans who enjoy swimming through the veritable Drake Passage of info. One is to enter these challenging waters with either a life vest or scuba equipment. In other words, some fans have protective gear on that allows them into the water, but is intended to keep them on the surface and prohibit them from sinking, while others (fewer I think) don a kind of SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) equipment approach to make diving in deep achievable, and to free them from of the dependency of the surface air.
The manifestation of these two fan approaches, I think, can be simplified into the following: the critic and the fanatic.
The critic is engaging the torrent of info very differently than the fanatic. The critic is always looking for ways to stay clear of the wash, to maintain emotional protection when things go bad while conveniently enjoying the catharsis when things go good. Freud would probably conclude that the sports critic is generally a repressed pessimist who uses sport as a vehicle to both validate his defeatist outlook and release the repression of his negativity.
The fanatic, on the other hand, is not idealistic as that is a third category I’m choosing to ignore due to time constraints. Unlike the critic, the fanatic receives the heavy flow of information and chooses to over-identify with the possibilities therein. The fanatic is sanguine at heart, and they focus not on the risks but on the rewards...you know, like a junkie. These people tend to overestimate their level of control over their object of fanaticism, and psychologist have identified a common trait that applies to these people: they suffer from an entitlement called optimism bias. These people think that, unlike you, they will be exempt of risk and thus they are more likely to smoke unfiltered cigarettes, eat poutine, drive while watching Netflix on a phone in their lap, own wild animals as indoor pets, bungee jump in third world countries, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, mainly because they choose not to see the problems that can arise out of those activities. As an interesting side note, fanatics also tend to have inflated egos, stare into mirrors, and blow dry their hair longer.
So, to recap:
Critics when confronted with information overflow, get more and more anxious as it flows, seize up, and see the glass half empty.
Fanatics when confronted with information overflow, get intoxicated by the flow, loosen up and see a full glass with a perfect head, and that thing needs to be quaffed.
Thankfully, BHGP has both in abundant supply which makes for rich debate on a daily basis. So I have decided, naturally, to further contaminate the environment with my own prognostication post that projects outcomes for the upcoming season, but one that can be (ideally) appreciated by each subset of the fanbase. Without further ado, I present to you now a game-by-game prediction post that forecasts why Iowa will win and lose every single game this season. Enjoy!
Iowa will win because: Better overall athleticism.
Iowa will lose because: Suspensions and nepotism.
Iowa will win because: Better coaching. Better QB. Better stadium. Better uniforms. Better fans. Better students. Better campus. Better coffee shops. Better book stores. Better Campus Rec Center. Better Church Attendance (Among Catholics)….pretty much better everything.
Iowa will lose because: Kirk Ferentz doesn’t take this rivalry seriously enough.
Iowa will win because: Size and speed matters in football.
Iowa will lose because: Size and speed doesn’t matter when the world is rat fucking me.
Iowa will win because: They’re due!
Iowa will lose because: My cousin in Wauzeka (Wisconsin, School of Dairy Science, Class of 2010), who sends me a cassette copy of “The House of Pain” album every time we lose, like clockwork, is the luckiest piece of cheese shit on the planet.
Iowa will win because: We got this.
Iowa will lose because: Seems like we always lose to these fuckers. Oh, we don’t? Well, we shouldn’t. I mean fuck.
Iowa will win because: Football school > Basketball school
Iowa will lose because: The unforgivable recruiting loss that is Juan Harris.
Iowa will win because: We’re more ethical.
Iowa will lose because: I got crabs my freshmen year. That’s what’s called a bad omen.
Iowa will win because: Kirk cracked the code on these dudes in Y2K.
Iowa will lose because: I used to believe we could beat these guys. I also used to believe in AltaVista, the telephone busy signal, my Blockbuster Video Platinum membership, and aluminum ice trays. How’s that working out for me?
Iowa will win because: All drum and no sizzle.
Iowa will lose because: That’s not how that saying goes.
Iowa will win because: Okay, you got me. We’ll probably lose.
Iowa will lose because: Wait. What?
Iowa will win because: We’ve won what, 9 of the last 10? I mean, please.
Iowa will lose because: I will never, ever get over that 2008 loss. Never. Never. Ever. Ever.[infinity]
Iowa will win because: What have you done for me lately Mr. Bob’s Big Boy Copyright Infringement Dude? LMAO!
Iowa will lose because: Five National Championships.