Farewell To Jackie MacMullan…

There was an announcement yesterday that Jackie MacMullan would be retiring from ESPN at the end of August.  There have been a series of “cutbacks” and “right-sizings” at ESPN over the past year or two, and the network went out of its way to say that this decision was MacMullan’s and not management’s.

MacMullan has been with ESPN for about 10 years after a successful career as a sportswriter for the Boston Globe.  The two ESPN programs I associate with her are The Jump and Around the Horn.  I read somewhere in the flurry of coverage of this announcement that she had appeared on Around the Horn almost nine hundred times making it appropriate that her final official act for ESPN will be an appearance on that program on the final day of this month.  [Spoiler alert:  She is going to “win” that day so she can say goodbye at the end of the program.  And, I am good with that.]

Jackie MacMullan has been a class act every time I have seen her on ESPN, and I used to enjoy her Boston Globe columns.  She has shown that she can be critical of individuals without being cruel or mean-spirited.  From my perspective, this is a loss for ESPN as a reporting entity.

Bonne chance, Jackie MacMullan.  Thank you for your good works; you have been enlightening and entertaining at the same time.  That is a sweet exacta to hit…

Moving on …  The NCAA could not find anything in its rule book(s) that would allow them to levy punishments on the Baylor football program for the sexual assaults and the cover-up of those assaults over a period of about 5 years.  There was nothing in the tomes of rules, regulations, and precedents to cover “inappropriate human behaviors.”  Not to worry, though, the NCAA rule book does have some provisions that seem to show that the football program at Nebraska has been “dirty.”

The NCAA super-sleuths are on the case and the crux of the violations seem to fall into two categories:

  1. Impermissible practices
  2. Improper use of “analysts” as “coaches.”

Oh, the horror of it all.  If proven, how can any student or faculty member at the University of Nebraska look at themselves in the mirror without assuming a measure of guilt by association.  Surely, the school will be calling in grief counsellors…

The “impermissible practices” have to do with allegations that the Nebraska team held workouts and practices at a time when the NCAA declared that there could be none due to COVID-19 shutdowns and protocols.  Maybe – and I do mean only maybe – this could be a minor infraction for the rules mavens to investigate in that it might be construed as a way for the Nebraska team to gain a measure of on-field advantage over teams that did not practice at all during the quarantine period.  If someone were to go down the path of “gaining an on-field advantage,” one would quickly come face-to-face with the fact that Nebraska went 3-5 last year and finished fifth in its Division in the Big 10.  So, whatever advantage that might have accrued to the team certainly did not manifest itself in a big way once they teed the ball up and kicked it off.

The “improper use of analysts and coaches”  is a testament to rule makers running amok with their control levers.  I am not totally clear on the “charges” here, but I will explain them as best I understand them.

  • The Nebraska team employs “analysts” who are not permitted to be involved in “coaching.”
  • One of the “analysts” was delegated responsibility for special teams – – but the rules state that “analysts” are not permitted to have direct contact with players.  Analysts can only have direct contact with the head coach and the assistant coaches.

According to the report I read regarding this investigation, there is “video evidence” of the practices and there is evidence that this “analyst” was talking directly to players.  Also, according to the report I read, the head coach, Scott Frost, has hired a lawyer to represent him in his dealings with the NCAA here.

If the report of the “video evidence” is correct, then the existence of the improper practices ought to be something that can be dispensed with in a matter of moments.  Either the videos are real with verifiable time stamps, or they are not.  I suspect that this five-minute conundrum will be the subject of multiple hours of interviews and cross-checks before the NCAA investigators send up their evidence to the NCAA Committee that will rule on the case months after seeing the evidence.

The other alleged infraction is – to steal a favorite word of H. L. Mencken – pure buncombe.  If the decision makers at the NCAA are actually interested in regulating the sport and the schools in a meaningful way, those decision makers would ask the rule writers a couple of direct questions

  • What unimaginable horror were you trying to avoid when you made the distinction between “analysts” and “coaches”?
  • Was there any danger of a tragic outcome once the “analyst” spoke directly to a  player and not to the player through the mouth of an assistant coach?

Not to get too theological here, but I believe God invented the “delete button” specifically for the purpose of expunging this set of rules and regulations from the NCAA’s books.

Finally, since I stole a word from Mencken above, let me close with one of his pronouncements:

“Democracy is grounded upon so childish a complex of fallacies that they must be protected by a rigid system of taboos, else even halfwits would argue it to pieces.  Its first concern must thus be to penalize the free play of ideas”

[Aside:  Substitute “NCAA governance” for “Democracy” in the above statement…]

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………