Sunday, August 16, 2020

They Finally Found a Way to Stop Northwestern From Playing Football

 One of the major issues with Big Ten football for the past several years has been the existence of Northwestern and the team's insistence on playing football. The team invades other stadiums and forces the Midwest and occasionally the Eastern Seaboard to endure its brand of trench football in their own venues or for opposing fans to trundle out to a Chicago suburb to sit in an austere stadium nearly bereft of acceptable dining options.  And what happened when the Wildcats would appear was often a grotesque series of punts and incomplete passes and players wriggling directly into the beefiest individual on the field 30 or 40 times before Pat Fitzgerald would, garbed in a schoolboy shorts outfit, Angus-stomp his way to the 50-yardline before unleashing a wailing guitar solo of remonstrances directly into the ear of the nearest official.  This was not just Northwestern on offense, but a brawny, pestering defense that often took other lumbering Big Ten West teams that embrace trends like using the spread offense but in an ungainly, lurching way that still somehow involves fullbacks, and forced their opponents' attack to degenerate into some form of harrowing grunt-football on the way to an unwatchable 17-14 game that Northwestern would occasionally have the indecency to win.  One time they did that enough to win the West Division and then they did the exact same thing two years later and won three games but one of them was a disgusting leather-helmet obscenity against Illinois that is one of my favorite football games that I've ever seen. 

There will be no Northwestern football this season, not because of their punt-related crimes, but because of that pandemic you may have heard about.  This is an unfortunate but wise decision.  A large part of the sport of football involves lining up in front of other people and aggressively breathing at them.  College football teams have close to 100 players not to mention a small army of staff and dozens of goatee guys named Chip whose entire job consists of spittle-flecked screaming.  The NFL has similar problems but will continue plowing ahead towards their doomed season because as God as his witness Roger Goodell is not going to cancel the season during Truck Month.

The Big Ten lurched towards this decision after several false steps such as staging a grand Releasing of the Schedules after canceling non-conference games and as non-Power Five leagues folded.  The decision also came after players, first in the Pac 12, then in the Big Ten, and soon across other conferences, began banding together and issuing demands for universities to, at minimum, provide basic precautions for their safety as programs practicing around the country erupted in outbreaks.  The conferences and NCAA could not do that-- it seems increasingly clear that the types of protections installed in public places that mainly include making someone continually wipe things with a damp rag are not particularly effective at stopping this virus and exist as more of a burlesque of hygiene to encourage people to patronize businesses.  

There is no way a football team at any level could not handle overtures to safety in an oafish and ludicrous way.  The Denver Broncos, for example, made players walk through a shower of what they claimed were some sort of cleansing chemicals to get to practice; this is probably the most absurd operation that we have so far seen from sports leagues trotting out square-headed coaches who now all talk like generals explaining why a Green Zone Burger King has fallen simultaneously to two or three feuding militias to explain that "we are taking every precaution possible to obey the Safety Protocols" before hastily adjusting a mask adorned with sponsor logos to bathe athletes in particles by bellowing at them to keep their KNEES UP DAMMIT.

According to Sports Illustrated, this is a "Nano-Crystalline Mist," says Broncos head medical official Paul Verhoeven 

But college football is not a functioning league but a decentralized cabal, and the conferences are free to decide what they want to do.  Usually, the sport's unorganized, balkanized feuding lends the sport its charm, an endless slate of grievances and a discourse fueled by hollering.  In this case, though, the response to the pandemic has resulted in chaos.

The SEC, ACC, and Big 12 are currently planning to start their seasons full steam ahead.  They do not appear to have any sort of plan or particular sort of insight into precautions that effectively prevent the virus from tearing through teams.  Instead, the ethos seems to involve jutting out the jaw manfully, showing a virus that they are not afraid, and possibly firing on it with automatic weapons.  This has echoed the broader American approach to dealing with the pandemic as a full throated yell of defiance at a threat absent of sentience; the United States continues to handle the pandemic by lifting its jacket to appear larger and more threatening to a pool of quicksand quickly engulfing us all.  

Some cracks in the response to a public health crisis that requires people to try not to breathe at each other are awful but predictable: people being forced to work in close quarters, people who believe that nothing should stop them from drunkenly screaming in each others' faces, people following confusing and outdated guidelines, but the defiant response of no one tells me how to breathe goddammit, and a desire to blast particles like a howling Godzilla stomping through miles of grandparents is the most disconcertingly deranged phenomenon of this experience, even in a country with a history of public health that largely involved people guzzling tonics because the top hat guy said it would help Invigorate the Ball-Sack.

Earlier this week, Nebraska demanded a return to play and threatened to leave the Big Ten altogether, traveling the land and loudly demanding other teams play them in football until the Big Ten told them they could not do that. 

The next NCAA football game should have Nebraska Nomad Mode where you play as Scott Frost wandering about the country and attempt to cajole opponents to play you through offering lucrative prizes or by insulting and belittling them

Maybe I will be wrong and the other football leagues will be fine and everyone will be healthily tackling each other and not teeming with viruses leading to a situation like how the St. Louis Cardinals are being forced to split into three or four different teams and play in several cities simultaneously, shuttling between them and impersonating each other with a series of wigs and false mustaches before someone coughs and they have to be disbanded again.

Like many people reading this, I had been looking forward to a Northwestern football season that offered a new offensive system, the potential to ruin several homecomings, and the exciting anticipation of which modern inventions would be disparaged by Pat Fitzgerald.  Perhaps they can play in the spring, although the possibility of us ever emerging from this seems incredibly distant, if not impossible.  The shutdown will wreak havoc on college sports without the obscene revenues they provide; on the other hand, if there is a small silver lining to all of this, maybe the players' ad hoc organizations will blossom into a movement that can wrench the Rotel advertising profits from the hands of administrators into and get them to  the athletes who smash into each other for our amusement.



The news remains grim and bleak so it was a welcome ray of sunshine when new Bulls President Arturas Karnisovas emerged from hiding and fired Jim Boylen out of a cannon from the team's practice facility.  For a couple of weeks, local beat writers had been antagonizing Bulls fans by reporting that Jerry Reinsdorf's loud complaints that the onset of a pandemic that had altered the lives of people across the planet had cost him some money meant he intended to keep Boylen's bulbous head around for another year.  Instead, Karnisovas stepped in and let him go. 

There has been a shocking amount of baffling Jim Boylen shit that has come out publicly, things that he actually told reporters.  The man was proud of his fucking punch clock.  We could also see players visibly disgusted or baffled when he took one of his patented pointless timeouts at the end of blowout.  I can only imagine what has gone on behind the scenes.  On Friday, Sun-Times beat reporter Joe Crowley tweeted that Boylen had a "verbal run-in with a team chef," a enjoyably baffling nugget that has had me imagining potential Boylen food-related meltdowns; the scenario rolling around my head that I've most enjoyed is that it involves Boylen attempting to launch a TB-12-style Lifestyle Brand oriented around porridge and a belief in some sort of martial art that "defends you from the moon."

I will at this point happily believe any story I hear about Jim Boylen with no scrutiny.

 While it is clear that Boylen needed to go-- not only was he an abysmal basketball coach but very clearly an absolute nightmare for anyone around him to deal with-- as a person who occasionally writes about the Bulls, I will miss the Jim Boylen experience.  As I have written earlier, the Bulls are not currently just a bad basketball team, but they are also a collection of blandly pleasant, boring players.  Jim Boylen was fun to write about because he was a maniac and capable of nearly anything.  Any picture of Boylen is inherently funny.  He poses like a comic book villain, he eyes are bugged out, his bald head shiny, exhorting players that are nearly always disgusted with him.  


Jim Boylen is the funniest coach that has ever been in charge of a team I follow.  It is not even close.  He might be the funniest coach in the history of the National Basketball Association.  Clearly, Boylen knows more about basketball than I could learn in a lifetime of study.  He has won championships as an assistant to the most respected coach in the game.  And yet at no point was any of this apparent.  He looked, acted, and behaved like some doofus that had been pulled from the stands to coach the team.  He looked out of his depths at all times, and his basketball strategies, as he communicated them, seemed to come mainly from talk radio calls about how these guys don't try hard enough.  Boylen spent years of his life deeply enmeshed in the NBA, and yet his ideas about how to coach NBA players seemed so obviously not suited to professional adults that it is completely baffling to me where he came from, but watching him take over the Bulls, immediately become so overbearing and awful that the players mutinied within days gave him at all times the air of a Kool Aid man who, having burst through the wall, had no other plan.  I will miss him terribly.

American sports are currently inextricable from the horror inflicting the country, and it is impossible to follow them now without hearing about Safety Protocols and testing rates and insane culture war raging and the same blueprint of incompetence and disregard for anyone's health in microcosm.  On Friday, the Bulls fired their oaf coach.  It had nothing to do with the pandemic, he just sucked.  It felt fantastic.

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