Football and the elections

Despite my general disrespect for big-time college football, I watched a fair amount of The Game, The Game, and Cal-USC today, and a generally miserable experience it was. Shockingly, the outcomes of the first and third of these were determined with absolutely no reference to moral desserts, truth and goodness, or any higher principle. It was simply a matter of which team played better, and the good guys played distinctly worse whether virtue was clad in red (The Game) or blue (Cal-USC). (I discern no moral standing differential between Michigan and Ohio State, so that was a push).

The only explanation I have for this generally bad day is that the election sucked nearly all the good karma out of the universe and the stock hasn’t been replenished enough yet to assure that everything else will unfold properly.

No expert, even I was struck by what a bunch of amateurs and klutzes I-AA Ivy players look like compared to the pros in I-A. I like to think the Harvards and the Yales had more fun, though.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

10 thoughts on “Football and the elections”

  1. The touchdown is not always to the virtuous. But I think the Steelers Superbowl season presaged the recent Democratic victory. The ascendancy of the Steelers as "America's team" suggested that the US was tipping back from the individualist Cowboy ethos to that of the working class solidarity. (I have a longer, slightly whimsical blog entry on this, but I don't know if listing the URL here is kosher.)

  2. Unfortunately, the World Series showed the opposite, with the politically egregious Suppan and Eckstein leading their team to victory — as a Mets fan, I hated Suppan before he made the ads against stem cell research, of course.

  3. I have spent (roughly) half my life in the land of the CFL (and the NFL on border affiliates), and half my life in the land of 'football' as in 'the Beautiful Game' aka the one we invented, but never get to the quarter finals in the World Cup aka 'soccer'.
    A couple of thoughts:
    – the latter is a game of enormous interest, but the growing corruption and monetary orientation of the sport makes it less and less interesting. But there is something deeply charming about the idea that someone might become a fan of Watford FC (a small satellite suburb of London) and remain determinedly so for the next 70 years of one's life.
    But footballers have now become spoiled brat superstars (see ice hockey players) whose Wives and Girlfriends (WAGS) attract more media attention than the game on the pitch (see Beckham, David and Adams, Victoria aka Posh Spice)
    – the former remains about as interesting as watching paint dry, and primarily a vehicle for commercial breaks.
    If you want to see grown men pound each other into the ground, go and see a top class rugby union game. There is a hell of a lot more going on on the field, and even the professionals don't get rich. Anyone with Celtic roots should be in love with this game, we could fairly say it is 'the Celtic Game' (other than hurling) at least if we can count Western Samoa as a Celtic country.
    Can anyone explain the attraction of American football, especially compared to football as the rest of the planet plays it, or rugby, or indeed just about any athletic activity?

  4. PS the contemplation of American football makes me pessimistic for the struggle against terrorism, the fight to do something about global warming, or just about any 'global' problem.
    If 'American exceptionalism' extends this far, then maybe the gap is just too large…
    ;-).

  5. I can't explain the NFL's attraction but for me NCAA football is about school spirit and that sort of thing. Could this spirit be expressed through another sport like soccer? Sure! But soccer both gains my interest when the World Cup comes around and loses my interest when who wins or loses seems to be determined by how hard you can make someone else's part in a collision look.
    I watch rugby when I can, but I can't afford Fox Sports World, so when I can is only a few times a year.
    To a lot of American's soccer looks identical to basketball. In both games you dribble constantly up and down the court only in basketball you score more often. So to summarize in a trollish way: If I wanted to see people run up and down a field and make a very large deal every time they fell down, I could head to the local elementary school and watch the 3rd graders run laps.

  6. Brendan
    Perhaps it is the College thing. College just isn't such an emotional tie over here. European universities don't really invest in their student life, and English university is only 3 years, and perhaps traditionally more of an excuse to drink than anything else!
    I take the point re dribbling. Perhaps it is the crowd thing, which makes English football worth watching!
    It is said over here that Americans cannot understand a game that has such a low score– a typical anglo dig at American short attention spans (the superiority complex of the motherland that has fallen behind the colony).
    Rugby is seen as a 'posh' game here, but then there is also Rugby League (a classic working class game) as opposed to the 'effete southern toffs' Rugby Union. RL was a coal miner's game.
    And anywhere Celtic has a strong Rugby tradition– Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France (more Celtic than Latin in many ways), parts of the West Country. I would guess some of the US Ivy universities play Rugby very well (also perhaps the Military Academies?).
    The physical range of a really good side of Rugby is amazing to see: the ball handling skills and physical brutality, but also the ability to run and change direction– kind of a mix of US football and 'soccer'.
    Here, Eurosport (the number 3 sports channel) is actually much more entertaining than Sky Sports (the Murdoch equivalent). You get all the track and field etc. I have sat absolutely rivetted watching the Women's Biathalon (ski-shoot-ski-shoot).

  7. VT, Baseball is of course America's low-scoring game, as you are no doubt aware. Cricket, apparently, takes something close to eternity and produces scores better suited to scientific notation than to the sports pages. Thus the English have no attention span. QED.
    The Australian conversation on what to call 'football' or even 'footie' is an interesting one: the game that Pele played? Aussie rules? one rugby or another? Apparently all are potential football games, and the are important differences by state. Or something like that.
    The Canadians would probably also like to remind you, nicely of course, that they too play a game of running, hitting and throwing called football.

  8. Doug
    Baseball I can just about get my head around. The stats angle caters to the inner nerd in all boys. It doesn't thrill me but I can see the attraction.
    Cricket is impenetrable. The lasting contribution of the Empire is to have created superb cricket playing nations in the form of the West Indies, India and Pakistan. But what is going on out there, I have no idea. I have formed the view that it is a sophisticated counter-subversion device. No foreign power can ever truly conquer the culture of a nation that plays cricket.
    Australian 'no rules' as I call it ;-). A nation stuck between the US and British national models ;-).
    On CFL, as I said in my original post, I could make head nor tail of the attractions of that one, either. Roughriders? Argos? C'est quoi? My brother's high school (one of the best in the country academically) was dominated by a 'football and band' culture, which I think was wrong, and cost it something as a school in neglect of other activities. Mine didn't play football (lacked the facilities and the money) but I think we could have fielded a pretty good side of rugby.
    Of course, being Canadian, we have to have different rules for our football ;-). In fact, as I recall, originally the University of Toronto Varsities, Queens, McGill etc. played in the Grey Cup ie the university teams played against the professionals. As they say in New York, who knew?
    (Women's ice hockey is still bloody brilliant– I'm told that is what men's professional hockey was like in the glory days of the early 60s). The men's has become another spoiled-sport violence fest.)
    I think rugby and football ('soccer') are just better sports (although I follow neither seriously, and have only a watching brief the former). In the sense that there is more going on on the field, and faster.
    The cynical answer on American television (see attempts to change the soccer rules when the US hosted the World Cup) is that the game play gives lots of time for commercial breaks. Hence a positive feedback loop: more coverage, more promotion, more audience.
    So, back to the original question. What is the appeal of American football?

  9. PS I can't resist.
    there was a brilliant editorial cartoon when the Habs (Montreal) won the Stanley Cup for about the 7th time. I think it was in the Montreal Gazette.
    It is the painting on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, and God is reaching out to give the divine spark to his son… who is wearing full hockey gear and a Habs sweatshirt.
    Still brings a smile to my face.

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