Thursday, May 31, 2012

Baseball and Videogame Development: Some Thoughts

[Note: All opinions expressed here are mine and not my employer's. You have been warned.]

I love baseball. I work in video games. So naturally, the collapse of Curt Schilling's 38 Games is of more than passing interest to me, not just because I feel terrible for the several hundred people who abruptly lost their jobs. And of course, there's all sorts of casting blame going on, and righteous pronouncements, and dire commentaries about how the real story, whatever that might be, will never be told.
I don't know. Like I said, I feel tremendous sympathy for two crack teams' worth of game developers who have suddenly found themselves unemployed. And I find myself suddenly trying to explain game development to folks who read or write about baseball, in a way that will make the story make sense to them, when I'm not quite sure it makes sense to me yet.
But in any case...

***

When Schilling first came up to the big leagues, he was famously a knucklehead. Self-admitted, even. It took a conversation with Roger Clemens after he was traded from Baltimore to Houston to get his head screwed on straight, an admonition to stop pissing away his talent and do what he was capable of. The light went on, or started to go on, and Schilling started to improve. Of course, he didn't improve that much, or he wouldn't have been available straight up for Jason Grimsley, but that's where the trending began.
Once upon a time, that was an inspiring story of one sort. An all-time great admonishing a talented screwup about working hard and changing his ways - that's the pure Horatio Alger stuff.
Except, of course, these days the story's a little different. With Clemens snared in PED and perjury allegations, the message can read a little different. Rules are for other people. Do whatever you have to. Win at all costs. Never admit when you're in over your dead - just keep swinging.

***

It was former Phillies GM Ed Wade who once said that Schilling was a horse one day out of five, and a horse's ass the other four.

***

When he pitched for the Phillies, Schilling never wanted to come out of the game. When the manager came out to get him, he'd argue, gesticulate, and generally do everything except fling the ball into center field to avoid handing it over. The reason was clear; he visibly trusted his own abilities to pitch out of a jam more than he trusted anyone in the Phillies' bullpen, which probably led to some awkward dugout conversations. But he never wanted to come out, never thought anyone could get out of a jam better than he could. And on those occasions when he talked the manager into letting him stay on the mound, once in a while he'd pull it off. The rest of the time...not so much. But he had that "bulldog mentality" that sportswriters love, and he "never wanted to come out of the game", and all those gritty old-school cliches that meant that he always thought he was the best man for the job. And to be fair, in those days, the Phillies' bullpen was pretty horrendous. On the surface, maybe, it made sense to want to avoid putting the ball in the hands of a Wayne Gomes or a Jerry Spradlin or a Bobby Munoz. At the same time, it made sense to get it out of the hands of a Schilling who was past 100 pitches, who was visibly running out of gas, who didn't have what it took to seal that particular deal.
Before the Bloody Sock, the most famous visual of Schilling came from the 1993 World Series. It's Curt, sitting in the dugout. Phillies closer Mitch Williams is on the mound, trying to protect a lead. And Schilling, old-school Schilling, has a towel draped over his head because he can't watch.
"Yeah," people say. "You can't blame the guy. It was Mitch Williams."
Except, of course, it was that game that helped turn Mitch Williams into "Mitch Williams". In 1993, Curt Schilling won 16 games. Mitch Williams saved 12 of them. Didn't  blow a single one.
Word is, he's still mad. Still feels shown up. Still feels like his teammate, the guy he closed the door for all year, threw him to the wolves for a little more camera time.

***

While he was playing, Schilling had a gaming habit. Those of us in the know had the 411 on his obsession with Advanced Squad Leader, but when ESPN.com started running articles about his MMO shenanigans with Phillies outfielder Doug Glanville, it was news. Big news. Schilling became the "gamer ballplayer", never mind that tons of athletes play games at home and on the road. I remember reading an interview with Eric Chavez, back before he turned into the Samuel L. Jackson character from "Unbreakable", where he talked about playing Ghost Recon. As one of the guys who worked on the Ghost Recon series, that gave me a thrill. The guy playing the game I wanted to, played the game I worked on. It was cool.
Having a gamer-ballplayer-in-chief, that was cooler.

***

Game development is, in a word, hard. MMO development is about as hard as game development gets. It requires a tremendous amount of investment and, depending on who you ask, a minimum of five years or so run-up before you can launch. Game developers don't do a good job of educating their audience about how much work goes into making a game, but it's a pretty impressive amount. Every item, every color, every word, every interaction, every creature, every motion, every sound, every thing in the game has to be designed, built, tested, polished, and most of all, made. Everything. Now think about populating an entire world - say, a World of Warcraft - when you have to make every single thing in it, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
It's a lot of work. There are no shortcuts. A single mistake can lead to brutally unbalanced gameplay, which in turn will drive players away like risk-adverse lemmings. It's a viciously competitive market space - just ask the folks at BioWare, whose massively constructed, critically lauded MMO tied to the biggest license of all time just shed 400K players and a bunch of staff as a result. There's a huge up-front investment - in people, in time, in overhead, in servers, in all the stuff that allows you to actually make the game. And you don't see dollar one until after launch, five or so years down the line.
The successes, when they happen, are impressive and immensely profitable - World of Warcraft, Eve Online, Maple Story, League of Legends. The failures are legion - Vanguard, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, Fallen Earth and many more. Millions and millions of dollars, years of development - gone.
That's the market Curt Schilling wanted to get into.

***

According to an industry source, at one point there were over 300 MMO projects in development. One can only assume that most of them were set up with the expectations that they'd be massive successes, that they'd rake in subscriber cash month after month.
That's the golden promise that everyone looking to dive into the MMO market - and most people outside the gaming business - sees.
Those 300+ games? You probably never heard of most of them. And most of them are gone now.

***

The teams working for 38 were, by all accounts, top notch. Big Huge Games is singlehandedly responsibly for my wife spending one more semester in graduate school than planned, by virtue of the addictive power of their port of Settlers of Catan to XBox Live. The folks at the Rhode Island studio were serious, smart, experienced pros who knew their business. The armchair quarterbacks pooh-poohing the talent or the dedication or the skill of the people actually making the game quite literally don't know what they're talking about. But all the talent and skill and experience in the world can't necessarily save you if you're not put in a position to succeed, if you're not given the resources you need, if you're not working within a framework that limits your risk and maximizes your chances of success. Even the best teams make games that fail, or that get canceled, often through no fault of their own. The market gets tight, or a title slips, or a marketing campaign fails, or a game just doesn't find an audience.
Or, the publisher pulls the plug, and the studio runs out of money. That happens, too.

***

Folks over on the baseball side ask questions like "does it really take that many people to make a video game?" and "How can you spend that much money on making a game?"
The answers are "it certainly can" and "very easily."
I don't blame them for asking. They don't know what goes into game development, or how many people and how much labor it takes to get a polished game out the door. There's no reason for them to know. As an industry, we do a great job of keeping our process under wraps. We project the image of crazy nerds playing games all day, if we can see over all the action figures on our desks. The hard work, the logistics, the crunch - all of that stays behind the curtain. And that's how you get commercials for game development "programs" that talk about "tightening up the graphics on level 3", and folks on baseball blogs wondering how many people it actually takes to make a game.
In case you were wondering, a game like 38 was making? It takes a lot.

***

The deal Schilling took to move 38 to Rhode Island was that, in exchange for $75M in loan guarantees from the state, he'd move the studio to Rhody and create a pile of new jobs. Seems simple, right? Except these things are never simple, and the more things get dug into, the more complicated the explanations get.   It is indeed likely we will never get the whole story, and in the meantime the accusations and rumors fly. Did 38 stick employees with second mortgages from houses that the company said would be sold for them as part of relocation? Did the state block 38 from selling tax credits to raise much needed cash? How much did Schilling know/do, and how much of the blame is his?
We don't know. We won't know, even when the investigations start and the walls come down and the digging gets serious. There's always going to be questions.
But there's one narrative that's easy to plaster over this. You take that bulldog Curt Schilling, the one who never wanted to come out of the game, who always thought he could bull his way through any situation. You put him in a field he loves but isn't trained for, something that years of playing games tells him should be easy and should be profitable. So he doubles down, and he doubles down again, and he moves the company to Rhode Island, and before he knows it, the Mets have put a six-spot on the board and he's blown the lead. Except, of course, it's not a lead, it's nearly $50M in Rhode Island taxpayer money, and it's the lives of nearly 400 employees spread over two studios, and sometimes, the solution isn't just to try to rear back and throw harder.

***

The instant the news broke on 38, folks from other studios were up on Twitter offering sympathies and job leads to developers affected by the news. It's that kind of industry. We all play each others' games, we all pretty much move from studio to studio as the dev cycles take us (I'm an exception, but that's for reasons too lengthy to go into here). And best as we can, we try to take care of our own.
Does baseball do that? I don't know.

***

In the end, the story's going to be less about the game and more about the guy who founded the company. Schilling put himself front and center at every opportunity, living up to the nickname "Red Light Curt" that his former manager gave him in Philly. And if you stand up front and you take the credit and you hog the spotlight, then like it or not, you're going to be front and center when it all comes crashing down. That's part of the deal, one the universe tends to keep with you whether you want it to or not. But in the meantime, the rest of us can think a little bit about bulldog attitudes and diving into fields that aren't our own, and maybe wonder a little bit about whether that was what went wrong

Friday, May 25, 2012

Misty Colored Memories

Hey, do you remember when the Heat were doomed and LeBron James couldn't score in the playoffs and losing Chris Bosh was a death blow and LeBron clearly didn't want to win and was afraid to take shots?

Yeah. Me neither.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dwight's Magic Kingdom

Like many 26 year olds around this great nation of ours, Dwight Howard didn't like his manager. He didn't like his boss. He had big ideas about how the place could be run better, and he got terribly frustrated when they weren't implemented, immediately and to his specification. This is not exactly a new phenomenon. There are a great many workplaces where young employees - even young prize employees - bitch and moan about their jobs, their situations, and their coworkers and bosses. It is, dare I say it, the natural state of things, and we generally give 26 year olds who indulge in this sort of crap a free pass, at least for a little while.
Of course, when you're one of the top players in the NBA and hundreds of millions of dollars potentially rest on your decisions about where you want to play, you don't get that free pass. You don't get "he's only 26", you get eviscerated on every sports talk radio station from here to Kandahar. And no, I'm not saying we should feel sorry for poor Dwight Howard in his moment of solitude; he cost a good coach and a good GM their jobs. His employer, Rich DeVos, took a coldblooded look at his franchise, decided the most important thing was to tempt Dwight Howard to stay in Orlando, and whacked the guys who might stand in the way of that happening. Strictly business, nothing personal, and it's a calculated risk because there's no guarantee that Howard won't want to walk away after next year anyway.
So, no sympathy for Dwight, even if his back hurts and he doesn't know where he's going to be in a year or so. Lots of 26 year olds have that kind of uncertainty, too. What they don't have is an entire nation of sports fanatics breathing down their neck, overanalyzing their every move and utterance, and rendering judgment based on that. Now, I don't think I need to remind you that 26 year olds, by and large, are prone to saying stupid crap. It includes, but is not limited to, "either he goes or I go", "I don't know if I want to stay here", and "I think I want to give this all up and go herd llamas, you know?" It's just that most of their stupid crap doesn't become fraught with the needs, hopes and expectations of millions of fans and the paid chattering class that guides them, until even the smallest statement (and to be fair, Howard made a lot of Big Statements) has to somehow Mean Something. And all across America, basketball analysts are being asked to go on air talk about What It All Means - hell, this morning Mike Greenberg asked one guest on Mike and Mike "Does Dwight Howard want to finish his career in Orlando?" For God's sake, he's 26. Did you know where you wanted to end your career when you were 26? Did you know where you wanted to have lunch three days hence, even? But the beast must be fed, and the only answer that can't be given is this: he's 26, he's a little immature, and the latest utterance means nothing because the dude's just sort of flailing around when he has to talk.
So, yeah. Dwight Howard wasn't sure about if he wanted to stay or go. He got his boss fired. He made noises one day about leaning one way, and made more another day leaning the other. He was, in short, 26.
And any attempt to read meaning into those slight utterances, the body language at press conferences and so on, probably needs to take that into account - and to spare us the breathless definitive pronunciations until they do.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Ballad of the Self-Hating Nerd

Once upon a time, there were two nerds who kind of hung around on the fringes of the cool kid crowd. At some point, one of the nerds (we'll call him ACC football) decided that the best way to get the cool kids to really like him was to beat the crap out of the other nerd (we'll call that one Big East football), take his lunch money, and then brag about it. The cool kids (we'll call them - oh, for God's sake, you get the metaphor already, do I really have to spell it out) encouraged the ACC to do this. Meanwhile, the Big East did the equivalent of turning around and beating up some second graders (see: Conference USA, the MAC, etc) to prove that it could be cool, too, not that anyone believed him.
But when the first nerd went to the cool kids to show off what he had done and to ask to be allowed to do cool kid stuff, the four cool kids laughed at him and set up a 4 team football championship that was held in a secret clubhouse marked "NO NERDS ALLOWED".
Because, really, for all the chest-thumping about the any-day-now renaissance in ACC football on local sports talk radio here in Raleigh, the ACC has done a remarkable job of screwing itself by raiding the Big East. By kicking the pins out from under the other "lesser" AQ (Automatic Qualifier) league, the ACC made it easier for the whole thing to be scrapped in a way that will leave them out in the cold. That's why we're getting a four team playoff, and that's why every year, those four teams will be from the SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12.
You want evidence? The Big 12-SEC bowl game that just got announced, also known as the "I'm Taking My Toys And Going Home Bowl" is proof that the sport's rich kids do not intend to share, now or ever, with the kids on the outside. I mean, sure, they made a handwave gesture at it when they expanded the BCS, so that one non-AQ team per year could be invited to a not-anywhere-near-the-established-power-structure game (usually against Pittsburgh),  but that was mainly to shut the critics up. Yeah, Boise State finally got to play in a BCS game, but the there was no way, ever, the BCS formula would let them get close to the championship.
And now even the pretense of fairness is going away, and it's the ACC - not the Pac-10's raid on the Big 12, or the Big 10's swipe of Nebraska, or anything else that did it. Because as rotten and unfair as the BCS was, it at least paid lip service to the idea that maybe somebody outside the biggest of the big conferences could get a seat at the table. And now that's gone. By pantsing the Big East, the ACC demonstrated convincingly that the entire notion of "an AQ conference" was non-viable. And if the Big East wasn't good enough to be invited to the party, then what about the guys who kept trying to improve their football by raiding the Big East? When Wake Forest wins your league championship in recent memory, you're not seen as a serious football conference, no matter how many Syracuses and Virginia Techs you gulp down. And if you're not seen as a serious football conference, you're not going to get your champion into that lucrative new playoff. Four teams, remember. Not six, for the AQ conferences. Not 8, including a few non-conf champs or non-"AQ" conferences. Four.
Let's do the math and run down the theoretical "powers" of ACC football. FSU is looking for the exits, Miami is waiting for the NCAA hammer, VT traditionally spits the bit on the big stage, and Clemson got thoroughly spanked when it got up in front of an audience last year. Adding perennial Big East underachievers Pitt and Syracuse isn't going to help the Strength of Schedule of anyone else in the league1. And that's going to kill anyone whom the league tries to spit out as a playoff contender end of season; the polls are going to look at a schedule full of conference roadkill and say they fail the sniff test; the computer formulae are going to notice the marshmallow-soft seasons, and as a result, the ACC champ is going to be sitting home pretty much every damn year, while the Kirk Herbstreits of the world just nod and shake their heads and talk about how the numbers prove impartially that they just weren't good enough.
Just like the Big East champ.
So congratulations, self-hating nerd. You screwed yourself. The four cool kids don't want to share. And thanks to you, they don't have to.







1Indeed, it can be argued that one of the main reasons Big East football turned into a punchline was Pittsburgh - between tripping up an unbeaten West Virginia team that was championship-game bound as the finale of an otherwise mediocre season and completely crapping the bed every time they were talked about as a national contender, they did more to lower the profile of Big East football than any other single school.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It Would Be Nice If...

...any of the coverage of Celtics-Sixers contained, you know. A mention of the Sixers.

Or at least wasn't on ESPN Boston.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Florida State, Scooby Doo Villain

This is what Florida State's athletic director said in response to rumors that the Seminoles were looking to jump to the Big 12:

"We're in the ACC. We're committed to the ACC," Spetman said. "That's where our president and the board of trustees has committed to, so we're great partners in the ACC."

 Translated into English, this roughly says:
  1. Crap, we got caught.
  2. I want us in the Big 12, but those stupid poopyheads the university president and board of trustees said no.
  3. Crud, we need to make nice to all the people we'll be playing next year if I don't pull this move off.
  4. This word "great partners", I do not think it means what you think it means.
  5. You're not buying a word of this, are you?
  6. I would have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for you meddling reporters and your stupid dog. Also, our football coach shooting his mouth off.
You know, if more than 20 Division I athletic departments were profitable, I could see some vague justification for all of this. But they don't, so there isn't, and screw anyone who says "well, football's profitable, you need to cut some chick sport, that's all." A whole lot of football programs aren't profitable, and it's not because of women's field hockey. It's because of multi-gazillion dollar facility improvements and multi-million dollar contracts for football coaches and, oh yes, the added travel fees racked up by all the other sports who now have to fly to Boise by way of Saskatoon because football's jerked them into a conference realignment that only makes sense in terms of football dollars.

So I expect FSU to bolt to the Big 12. And I expect the ACC to respond by ripping UConn or Lousiville out of the Big East. And I expect all the happy horseshit will continue from there, as it has, because at least right now, football money is all that matters in college sports.

But gosh, they're great partners to somebody at FSU. It's not their fault that "somebody" changes.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Harper Dugout P.T.A.

So Bryce Harper, wunderkind, had himself an 0-5 night tonight, and in response, he took a swing at the clubhouse tunnel wall. This is, of course, being jumped on by various folks as proof that Harper is a "punk" - that memorable word that got mild-mannered Lenny Randle to punch out his manager - and seventeen kinds of horrible human being. The same reaction, from a different player, might be cast as "competitive" or "he really hates to lose" or "fiery". But with Harper, it's more proof that he's Jerkimus Maximus, because, hey, that's the narrative.
I think it was Bill James who once famously described titanically noggined former Phillie Dave Hollins as "intense", and then added that you're intense only as long as you're playing well, you're the same guy, only now sportswriters feel free to call you a jerk. One gets the feeling that if Harper were hitting over .300 and had blown up after a bad night, some of the people now burying him would instead be lauding his "intensity" and his "fire", and talking about how it brought a needed spark to a veteran team that could use some of that energy. It's happened before, after all. Ask Dave Hollins.
It's not surprising that the knives are out for Harper. He's been touted as The Next Big Thing since he was young enough to unironically like Justin Bieber, his prodigious talent and career-minded upbringing have kept him from being anything like a normal teenager, and he's making a lot of money. Also, he's done a few jerky things, some of which appear far less jerky in full context.
But really, the most important number here is 19. As in, the kid is playing, and holding his own, at the highest level of competition in the world at the age of 19. How many of us would have done so well? How many of us were still trying to figure out when exactly you started "Dark Side of the Moon" in order to sync it up perfectly with The Wizard of Oz at that age, not shrugging off a Cole Hamels fastball to the meat?  How many of us wouldn't have punched something if we got frustrated at failing, especially after failing at something that we've been able to do effortlessly our whole life?
That's not to say that I think it was brilliant of Harper to accidentally Stoudamire his face. He is going to have to learn to control that temper if he wants to achieve the greatness his talent seems to promise. At the same time, he's 19. I'm not quite willing to consign someone to the reflexive hatred bin because he's got his emotions on his sleeve two years before he can legally drink. At least he's not writing bad poetry, right? A dugout tantrum is one night, a bad rhyme scheme is forever.
So come on. Look in the mirror. Then think about yourself at 19, and cut the kid - and he most surely is a kid - some slack. And while you're at it, try to be a little less "intense".

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Draftniks, Relax

To those of you already doing mocks for the 2013 NFL draft, I have but one thing to say:
What the hell is wrong with you?
It is time for NHL playoff hockey. The Charlotte Bobcats have been put out of their misery, meaning it's NBA playoff season as well. Baseball is underway, awash in compelling story lines. The Olympics are due sooner than you think. Tiger Woods has once again gotten a rough idea of which end of the golf club he's supposed to be holding. NASCAR is happening, or so I'm told. There are roughly nine million sports stories to be told before the next NFL draft, you just got your fix, and you're already jonesing for another one?
Seriously, there is no way of knowing which college kids will play well, which teams will have needs come next draft, and what the draft order is going to be - BECAUSE THEY HAVEN'T PLAYED NEXT SEASON YET.
So chill out, Spartacus. Grab a beer. Watch a Cubs game from the bleachers or learn who the hell Spencer Hawes is. And don't bother me with NFL draft stuff for another ten months.
Please.

Friday, May 04, 2012

No Mo

My parents were Brooklyn Dodgers fans, in the era of "Wait Til Next Year!". On a shelf in my office are yearbooks from those powerhouse teams of the early 1950s. I was probably the only kid south of Paramus who had any idea who the hell George Shuba was, or what an Oisk might have been. And I grew up hating the Yankees for standing in the way, so many times, of those long ago Dodger teams. For preventing Campy and Duke and Junior and Newk and all the rest of them from winning more World Series and assuming their rightful place on Baseball Olympus.
I went to college and grad school in New England. This coincided with the Yankees rousing themselves from their decade-long slumber and once again becoming beasts. They remembered that they were the Yankees, damnit, and proceeded to use the Red Sox as punching bags with greater and greater precision. I lived in Connecticut; I lived in Boston. It was painful to watch.
2009. I found myself in a sports bar the night of the last game of the World Series, my Phillies in the days of thinking they were going to make a dynasty versus the resurgent, unkillable Yankees. Pedro Martinez is on the mount, pitching on guts and baling wire, and it's not getting the job done. The Phils, for their part, are flailing - Ryan Howard chasing, Chase Utley hurting, Jimmy Rollins trying to do too much - and they go down to defeat. The Yankees are world champions, and the Phillies aren't, not any more.
In other words, I hate the Yankees. I am second generation, or maybe third, hating the Yankees.
But no one who calls themselves a baseball fan, be they a Yankee hater born and bred like me, should be glad to hear the news on Mariano Rivera. Love him or hate him, love his team or hate his team, or simply wonder how the hell he does it when everyone, and I mean everyone including the peanut vendors, knows what pitch is coming next, he is an icon of baseball. He is one of the guys you tell your kids "I saw him" about, twenty years down the line. He is, in a very real sense, a legend of the game, and we are all poorer when legends end.
And yeah, this is almost certainly the end. It's nine months to recover from a blown ACL, and Mo had already been hinting he was hanging up the spikes after this year. I can't see him doing the rehab and coming back, not at his age. He might surprise us yet. After all, he's been surprising us every year for the last ten or so - all those "is this the year Mo loses it" stories, all the panic when the annual blown save came along. But the invisible demons conjured by sportswriters had no power; a torn ACL, that's something else.
So Yankees fans and Yankees haters, count yourselves lucky that you got to see him, and count yourself sad that he's gone.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Your Handy-Dandy Guide to Mickey Loomis Conspiracy Theories

While the draft has distracted the NFLigentsia from the latest chapter of New Orleans Saints-related skullduggery, rest assured it hasn't gone away. This go-round, as you're no doubt aware, is about the revelation that already-suspended Saints GM Mickey Loomis apparently had a wiretap on opposing coaches so he could listen in on game calls. 
Now, I have no idea if this is true or not. If it is, then Loomis is probably done as a GM, and with good reason. If it's not - and the Saints are adorably mathematically incompetent when they say this is 1000% false - then it'll all blow over. But in the meantime, there's a whole section of the chattering class, only some of whom can blame concussions for their wonky logic, who have worked up all sorts of contorted reasons why even if Loomis did illegally - and yes, the word is "illegal", as in "your ass is going to jail" - wiretap opponents, it couldn't possibly have given the Saints any kind of advantage. Here's a few of the more popular ones:

The Whistleblower Was A Disgruntled Ex-Employee, So It's All Made Up - Oddly enough, guys who are still happily employed rarely blow the whistle on their employers. For some reason, "I love this place and my job so I'm going to fuck us over by admitting guilt, and ruin my career in the process" isn't a terribly popular goal to put on one's employee review form. Odds are, if a guy's blowing the whistle, he's disgruntled. And it just might be the stuff that he's blowing the whistle on that ungruntled him.
Loomis Was A Cap Guy, So He Wouldn't Understand What He Heard - The theory here is that since Loomis came up as a numbers/salary guy, the stuff he overheard from coaches would be, in the words of the Tick, some crazy moon language. He'd never understand it, therefore he'd never be able to use it. This, of course, ignores the fact that we have this thing called "recording technology". We also have this thing called "video". We even have the ability to match a "recording" to "video" so, theoretically, Loomis could have seen which crazy moon language terms matched up to which plays on the field. Astonishing, really.
Alternately, he could have just shared the feed with someone who knew what the hell these guys were talking about. Either works.
By The Time He Figured Out What They Meant, It Would Be Too Late - After all, games are short and schedules shift around, and how many times were the Saints likely to play a given opponent in the time frame when this was apparently going on? Well, yes, there would be some one-timers. There would also be divisional rivals who'd show up on the schedule twice a year, every year. That's a fair number of games, don't you think? And, there'd be the coaches who'd move around and take their terminology with them, rendering the stored knowledge of how they called plays potentially useful indeed.
So, yes, by the time Loomis figured out what one play call meant in one game, it might have been too late. Might. Then again, who's playing just one game?
There Wouldn't Be Enough Time For Loomis To Have Relayed The Signal Anyway - Supporters of this theory like to posit that the only way Loomis could have communicated what he overheard was via a complicated series of intermediaries including multiple assistant coaches, a party-line operator from a 1940's screwball comedy, and SETI. Because there were so many intermediate steps between the wire and the sideline, they say, the information couldn't possibly arrive in time to be useful. This, of course, posits that the only way Loomis possibly could have conveyed the info he got to the coaching staff would have been verbatim, and very slowly. Even a single bit of info - like, say, blitz or no blitz, communicated by a light that went on and off as needed, could have been incredibly useful. Or maybe he could have sent a picture. Or a quick text. Or communicated by the sorts of signals that baseball coaches love to use - body language. Or, well, you get the idea.
And, as above, if Loomis and his people had then broken down the intercepted voice with game film, it would have been trivially easy to translate, summarize, and pass along opposition plays in a heartbeat.
The Saints Didn't Win the Super Bowl While He Was Doing This, So It Clearly Couldn't Have Done Any Good - Yes. Because incompetence at cheating should be rewarded. The logic of this one is so self-evidently idiotic - expand it out and you get "guys who did steroids but still sucked shouldn't get suspended", which sportswriters would never go for - that it barely rates a mention. Whether the local gendarmes will feel the same way, well, if they were Saints fans they might. Conversely, they might be really pissed at Loomis for not having signed Drew Brees before he got suspended.

So, in conclusion, Loomis didn't do it, he was set up, even if he did it eavesdropping wouldn't have done any good, and what the hell, he didn't benefit from it so let him go with a stern talking to. 


Malcolm Gladwell on College Football

Some people find Malcolm Gladwell to be a little facile while others find him to be a genius (personally I loved Blink but thought The Tipping Point was awful).  He's been on a crusade lately that combines two stances I* strongly agree with:

  • College football players are being taken advantage of
  • Head injuries in modern football, at all levels, are a grave crisis


In Slate today, Katy Waldman interviews Gladwell about these issues.  In it they also link to a plausible article in Grantland that posits a CTE-related scenario that might lead to the demise of the NFL.  Interesting reading.

* I don't speak for young Mr. Dansky here of course

Irony

Of course, the day after my post, the Bulls go out and win a 1-0 game, nearly getting a no-hitter themselves.

Baseball, like the universe, has a sense of humor.
There was an error in this gadget