Jim Souhan is a sports columnist for the Star Tribune. He seemed like a really nice guy when I briefly met him when I worked there, what seems like 300 years ago. He's also really bad at his job. When he's not attempting to be really funny and not succeeding - the Original Whizzinator jokes quit being funny or original a long, long time ago - he's capable of making simply astounding statements like these in his Saturday column:
"There was a time, children, when the Big Ten not only included just 10 teams, it included only two annual contenders - Michigan and Ohio State."
"This year, the parity infecting the sports world finally reached Big Ten country . . . ."
"And in the once-predictable realm of Big Ten football, surprising Northwestern, resurgent Penn State and overachieving Wisconsin are tied with Ohio State with only one loss in conference play."
This would have been an original thought in, say, 1982. From 1968 through 1980, Michigan and Ohio State were the only teams from the Big Ten to play in the Rose Bowl. Beginning with Iowa's trip to the Rose Bowl following the 1981 season, however, there has been plenty of turnover at the top of the Big Ten conference. For example:
- Big Ten Rose Bowl representatives from 1984 to 1988: Illinois, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State (five different teams in 5 years).
- Big Ten Rose Bowl representatives from 1994 to 1997: Wisconsin, Penn State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Michigan (again, five different teams in five years).
- Big Ten Rose Bowl visits by selected school since 1985: Wisconsin 3, Northwestern 1, Purdue 1, Ohio State 1. Note Ohio State's dearth of visits, although there would have been another had the Bowl Championship Series not had them playing in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship. OSU has played in a grand total of 2 Rose Bowls since Ronald Reagan was elected president.
- 1987's top three Big Ten finishers: Michigan State, Iowa, Indiana.
And if the guy can remember the last few years, he might notice something about the rate of turnover at the top of the Big Ten:
2004: Michigan, Iowa (tie for 1st)
2003: Michigan 1st
2002: Iowa, Ohio State (tie for 1st)
2001: Illinois 1st
2000: Purdue, Michigan, Northwestern (tie for 1st).
1999: Wisconsin 1st
So in the past 5 years, over half of the Big Ten has finished the season in first place. And yet, Jim Souhan thinks THIS is the year parity arrived and the Big Two of Ohio State and Michigan were dethroned.
And I have absolutely no idea why Jim thinks a logjam at the top of the Big Ten is a novel thing. For example:
1990 Big Ten standings
Michigan St. 6-2
In short, the main point of his entire column really couldn't have had much less of a basis in reality. Now, I'm not sure why this bothers me to the extent that it does; after all, this is the sports section, or the "toy department" of the paper. In part I guess it's because of the laziness it shows: this guy, who has admitted he's never covered college football or covered it that closely, came up with what he thought was a neat theory for a column, and did not one bit of research into whether the facts supported his theory. Or maybe because of what it shows about how newspapers are produced; apparently there are no editing safeguards in place to keep columnists from publishing things that embarrass them and the paper (although the continued existence of Sid Hartman and Nick Coleman ought to have made this clear long ago). I guess the biggest issue is what this says about the newspaper and credibility. Not every story in the paper is one where I know the factual background this well. When you've seen just how profoundly wrong a newspaper can get stuff, how can you believe what they write about stuff you're not familiar with?