The decline of America
Is tied directly to Twitter and the likely dissolution of the Pac-12?
Welcome to the latest edition of SSWOS, the Sick, Sad World of Sports, where sports is the mechanism by which we learn about the depths of shithousery and assholery and dipshittery of the human soul.
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Since the last newsletter, I’ve written about Andrew Voss, Queensland Cup and Bluey in a truly meandering essay, as well as the death of the NRL’s representative weekend and the impact that will have on international football.
The decline of America
Let’s all marinate in the brain genious on display here.
Van Valkenburg is referring to this tweet - still somehow not deleted, despite a fantastic ratio - from a couple of years ago:
He claims to be a senior writer at ESPN and clearly has a good grasp on how sports works. We could disassemble this word by word but let’s save some time by just noting that:
He’s basing this on US college rugby, a form that is, at best, adjacent to the professional pyramid.
Urban Meyer washed out of pro football in thirteen games, and that’s the sport he’s supposed to be familiar with.
It’s highly questionable whether any of the men cited have the aerobic engine to last a full game of rugby union, let alone leagueor worse, soccer.
Then we have Bukowski at the top:
He was also ratioed for this. It is actually very easy to imagine if Henry, et al grew up playing soccer because they’d be anonymous schlubs just like everyone else. Josh Allen was a terrible college quarterbackand his emergence in the NFL is nothing short of miraculous. It was far more likely for him to slip back into obscurity in his chosen field, let alone a sport with a different set of physical requirements (e.g. can’t use hands). He would have done far better with NBA players.
The unstated (in Van Valkenburg’s tweet) and stated (in Bukowski’s) fact is that the United States is populous and very rich, two decisive factors determining a country’s sporting prowess on the international stage. The greater the population, the more athletic outliers there will be. The greater the wealth, the better infrastructure that is in place to identify and develop them. None of that is actually that controversial.
The interesting hypothetical - for me at least, which is why I’m writing about dumbass tweets that otherwise have no value - is how much better would the United States be at soccer (or any given sport with an international aspect, but soccer has the deepest pockets and talent pools) if they focussed on it with the same intensity as Europeans.
At the time of writing, the FIFA men’sworld rankings has the following nations in the top ten: 1. Brazil, 2. Belgium, 3. Argentina, 4. France, 5. England, 6. Spain, 7. Italy, 8. Netherlands, 9. Portugal, 10. Denmark. Of that list, there are three economies under $1 trillion in GDP and four countries with fewer than 20 million in population. While a large economy and a large population are conducive to success, it is by no means a guarantee of domination.
While the United States has a higher GDP per capita than any of the top ten, is it that much higher that it would be a distinct and long lasting advantage? Surely diminishing returns plays a role at some point. Is there population that much larger that it would allow for their outliers to be that much better? I think it’s unlikely. If it were so, India might never lose another game of international cricket and a combined European Union soccer team would dominate even harder than a proper effort from the USA.
It would be too much to expect generic American sports writers to consider this context and provide some insight. Instead what we get is the flipside of the globalisation of sports. Time was that Americans simply would not be exposed to European soccer or rugby but globalisation can be a two way street. While the cultural traffic mostly runs from the United States out, sometimes things seep back the other way, especially in a world where the American imperial project is decidedly on the wane. The explosion of American interest in the Premier Leagueand F1 are two examples of this.
Even if the Americans of yesteryear did manage to find out about the All Blacks or the Champions’ League, their takes would be confined to crankish letters to the editor of the Everytown Picayune or, at worst, calls to local sports talk back radio. Now, with streaming and social media and especially Twitter’s quote tweets, these takes escape containment into the wider world where they are rightly panned for their ignorance.
Unfortunately, the conditions that expose Americans to the wider world aren’t diminishing any time soon. Given there is absolutely no incentive for generic American sports writers to understand how esoteric and parochial their own sportsare, and by extension they themselves are, I guarantee there will be more, just like this.
The best case scenario is that the United States collapses under its neutron star of problems - the country’s complete inability to look after its own citizens, the death cult that seems to be running the Supreme Court, and the party that is nominally in power but has no interest in solving any problems because the threat of these problems getting worse is good for fundraising - and bloodlessly splits into about four or five different countries. Perhaps roughly along the lines of Power 5 conferences?
Then they can play their sports internationally. A World Cup of American Football might be fun.
The grace, the beauty of sports
The UIPM and World Obstacle got the woman from Australian Ninja Warrior - who it turns out is the current world champ - to turn up to a test event for the obstacle discipline in Ankara. Next stop is Manila. It very much looks like a World Obstacle-UIPM JV at this point.
A good American sportswriter tweet
Let’s put a pin in splitting along P5 lines
In the space of about twenty-four hours, college sport was upended for what seems to be the umpteenth time.
USC and UCLA left the Pac-12 conference for the Big 10. Following on from Texas and Oklahoma recently flipping off the Big 12 on their way to the SEC, this is now a Thing, maybe even a Trend, in college sports.
I snarfled down all of the content out of The Athletic about this because I am a sicko little piggy for messy sports drama and, like modern pentathlon, we don’t get a lot of opportunities to watch a sport almost sublimate and reshape itself under the ferocious pressure of the capitalist kleptocracy.
After the sixth article askling largely the same questions in a slightly differently SEO-optimised fashion, I started to think that maybe there wasn’t a whole lot that’s clear about this right now. By the twelfth, I was sure.
This Is College Football’s Super League Moment.
What Will The Corpse of the Pac-12 Do Without The LA TV Market?
How Many of the Big 12/ACC Schools Will Follow Suit?
How Many of the Pac-12 Schools Will End Up in the Big 12?
Will Notre Dame Finally Join a Conference?
Boy, The SEC and Big 10 Look Smug.
I don’t have any particular insight to offer in answer to these questions but what is clear is that the Pac-12 commissioner, George Kliavkoff, is a dud. A bad TV deal that no one subscribes to and allowing two of the flagship programs leave is not great for the resume.
He’s the biggest loser out of this. No one really cares about the Pac-12, or any conference for that matter. What they care about is their school, college football as a whole and their school’s success within that frame. If winning the conference title helps to that end, great, but no one cares that it’s the Pac-12 specifically. Winning an expanded Big 10/SEC/whatever title is just as good, if not better. But without a Pac-12, there’s no need for a Pac-12 Commissioner. Who else would hire him?
More broadly, the schools are just responding to the economic incentives, which are to accumulate as much money as possible, as this secures further future success. It is an arms race with all the game theory baggage that brings. The question for college sports in general and football and basketball in particular, is at what point does the divergence in economic fortunes for the winners of this process from the left-behinds mean that they are no longer playing the same sport?
Sports are defined by their rulesets and I think an under-recognised part of that ruleset are the financial, economic and commercial controls that dictate how much money can be spent by teams. All Major League Baseball teams operate under the same financial controls, so they are playing by the same rules and by extension, playing the same sport. Australian Baseball League teams have a salary cap of $100,000, which is a very different (albeit very necessary) restriction from what MLB teams experience. The restriction is so severe that its likely that an ABL team could never beat a MLB team. If the rules prevent you from actually winning, are you still playing the same game?
Between NIL and ever increasing broadcast funding for an ever decreasing number of schools, how much longer can you say all of the FBS teams are still playing the same sport? And given enough time, what impact will that have on how college football operates and how its perceived within American culture? Perhaps these are also interesting questions to think about.
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And will be handsomely rewarded with an astonishingly large contract with some TV network for him to chip in a few comments here and there.
Jordan Mailata, Philadelphia Eagles’ starting left offensive tackle and former South Sydney junior, would never have cut it in the NRL because no one is giving up a roster spot for a bench forward who can’t last thirty minutes, irrespective of his wrecking ball credentials. Now he gets to make considerably more money.
7.8 yards per attempt for Wyoming for a total of just over 5,000 yards.
Based on some cursory googling, the EPL brings in more (£10 billion) as a percentage of England’s economy (0.5%) than the big 4 combined. The equivalent for the US would be $55 billion dollars. The NFL is $10 bil per year, the NBA and MLB about $1 or 2b, and it drops off pretty quickly after that. Using this as a proxy for the availability of sports resourcing, there’s some ground to be made up by the US.
I didn’t compare the women’s rankings for two reasons: a) it’s considerably less resourced than men’s sport so reflects less of the scope of national wealth and b) I very much doubt these two sports writers care all that much about women’s sport.
I guess its worth clarifying that we’re talking about white American interest in soccer. There’s always been plenty of Latino interest.
F1 is a little more fortunate because there is an American team that doesn’t do particularly well. It’s also clearly a more difficult discipline than NASCAR or Indy. For the record, the last American world champ was Andretti in 1978. Canada has had a champion more recently than that.
Or politics or culture or…