Monday, September 27, 2004

dude, the only thing more awesome than seeing the hawkeyes lose would be more tax cuts for the rich

My beloved Iowa Hawkeyes were defeated yesterday by the Michigan Wolverines, 30-17. I have received some taunting e-mails about this from readers, such as the one arriving in my inbox this evening that says: "i was thinking of you yesterday when the hawkeyes had their sorry asses kicked."

It does not bother me when people profess glee at the Hawkeyes losing, as of course everyone is entitled to their own opinions as to these matters. Just as a matter of logical consistency, it does bother me a teensy bit whenever someone roots against the Hawkeyes and yet professes otherwise to be of any kind of leftward outlook on the world. I mean, if one takes a unifying left value as something resembling a tendency to side against the weak against the strong, the disadvantaged against the privileged, the underdogs against the behemoths, the downtrodden against the elites, et cetera, it's hard for me to apprehend how one can claim to be leftish in today's political environment while dancing with excitement at a Hawkeye loss.

If you look at the basic demographics of college sport, it's hard to understand how the Hawkeyes ever manage to win at all. The University of Iowa is the smallest public school in the Big Ten. Beyond this, it has, without a doubt, the most football-impoverished recruiting base in the Big Ten. As just partial evidence of this, consider some numbers:

Ohio: 1.1 million people aged 18-24; 1 BCS school (1.1 million people/school)

Michigan: 1 million people aged 18-24; 2 BCS schools (500,000 people/school)

Wisconsin: 566,000 people aged 18-24; 1 BCS school (566,000 people/school) (Note: That Barry Alvarez must be a genius to be able to win here!)

Iowa: 316,000 people aged 18-24; 2 BCS schools (158,000 people/school)

Just looking at these numbers for Iowa and Michigan, it's really not surprising that Iowa usually gets beaten by Michigan. Indeed, the Hawkeyes have only defeated the Wolverines six times in my lifetime. Arguably, in none of those six instances--including our 26-0 victory in 1984 and our 34-9 victory in Ann Arbor in 2002--did the Hawkeyes field the more talented team. Indeed, perhaps only in one case--the 12-10 victory in 1985--could one say the Hawkeyes put a team on the field that was even 90% as talented as the Michigan team.

However, being Iowans, we do what we can with what we have and don't complain, except occasionally on our weblogs. We are used to sporting disappointment and take it stoically. Iowa didn't have a winning season in the ten years before I was born, nor did they have a winning season until ten years after I was born.

We recognize that we are fortunate if we beat Michigan more than once in any given presidential administration. We focus on the good times. Have I mentioned the time we shamed a considerably more talented Michigan team 34-9 in Ann Arbor? The final score was 34-9. While the Michigan fan is likely already over whatever thrill they felt from Saturday's 30-17 win, I can even today recall and savor, firstly, the 34, and then, secondly and entirely distinctly, the 9.

But, sure, I can understand why someone would root against the Hawkeyes. It's much the same as rooting for Goliath, Microsoft, the Bourgeoisie, Clear Channel Radio, Halliburton, Ivan Drago, the Slytherin, The Dream Team, and the Death Star, but I do understand how one might find all that appealing. I'm sure, for instance, that Dick Cheney, when he watches games from his secret concrete bunker, loves nothing better than to see the Hawkeyes suffer defeat, so why shouldn't you?

BTW, I am actually going to be at the Hawkeye game next week! I go to one game each year and next week is it. So rooters-against-the-Hawkeyes might also thus want to root for a pouring rain, too.


Anonymous said...

I had no idea that Iowa only recruits in Iowa. Do the recruiters have those electronic collars like the ones that keep the dogs in the yard?

jeremy said...

Readers: See! See what someone who attempts to cast any kind of sociological/demographic lens on college football performance has to deal with! Above we have an example of the propaganda-ethos of American reactionary politics at its finest! Because Iowa can (and does) attempt to recruit a prospect out of Detroit, or Cleveland, we are supposed to believe that proximity affords Michigan and Ohio State no advantage. in the matter. If Iowa doesn't get nearly as many of the top players in Ohio as Ohio State does, it's because the Iowa coaches must not have worked as hard or be as smart about recruiting as the coaches at Ohio State are.

Anonymous said...

From JECG, proud Iowa alum and Hawkeye fan: Take comfort in the fact that Michigan fans are ALSO still remembering the 34-9 drubbing from 2002. (I was at that 2002 game, and what a sweet day it was, except for having to listen to my Wolverine husband bitch and moan for 3 hours in the car.) I was at the game this past Saturday, and I can't tell you how many times I heard people bring that up: at the stadium, on the radio. I think one commentator said something to the effect of, "Well, Michigan can rest easy now, knowing that it will be at least 3 more years before Iowa beats them 3 years in a row." Wolverines are weird, and I should know: I live with one.

Anonymous said...

jfw, you make me laugh.

important to note also, that i wasn't technically rooting against the hawkeyes. i just enjoy the taunting that naturally goes along with being passionate about a football team.

and by the way, it's not as if, given this pseudo-sociological analysis and the incredible advantage you portray Ohio State as having, has given them a lot of luck against Michigan either.


Anonymous said...

Dude, it's Iowa! Why the hell would anyone not from Iowa root for the Hawkeyes?

And why root for pouring rain? It's the Midwest! We get blizzards and tornadoes!

jeremy said...

Readers: See what I have to deal with. Because the Hawkeyes represent the scrappy underdog. It serves as the best collegiate proxy for all those spunky downtrodden parties whom, despite overwhelming disadvantages, are still willing to face off, year after year, against more well-heeled opposition.

When a dandelion manages somehow to grow through a crack in the sidewalk, you can either be one of those people who roots for it to keep growing, or you can be one of those people who gleefully stomps that dandelion into oblivion. I think we know what sort of person the previous anonymous commenter is.

Anonymous said...

i think the dubious distinction of "big-ten underdog" and scrappy fighter goes to northwestern, despite its status as a private school.

jeremy said...

Sure, if you want to root for a school that is often quite narrowly focused on the educational well-being of hyperpampered kids from the better Chicago suburbs, don't let me stop you. Just don't pretend there is anything subversive or liberal about it, given that Northwestern students are fond of chanting in the face of losses, "It's all right, it's okay, you'll be working for us someday."

Besides which, there is a difference between being an underdog and being a scrappy underdog. It's only been in the last decade that Northwestern has actually been trying in revenue sports, so I don't know why they get to appropriate the scrappy mantle.

tina said...

Isn't the football coach the highest paid person in the whole state of Iowa? That's not very "of the people."

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, poor Iowa. And even poorer Notre Dame. Consider how hard they must have it, with 3 BCS schools splitting whatever scraps of football talent are left from a basketball crazy state like Indiana. But Notre Dame has one of the richest traditions in college football? Oh, well, they recruit nationally. Oh, yes. But so does Michigan--look at their roster compared to Michigan State. Listen to an OSU fan bitch about all the Charles Woodsons, Desmond Howards, etc. who leave for That School Up North. Why do they go there? Certainly it's not just because it's a better school than Ohio State, is it? (Not to mention Iowa, and just about everyone else among BCS schools, by just about any measure). Better in football, better in academics, better in social life, better in culture, better in diversity, better in local cuisine, please stop me before you start thinking that Michigan alums might get a little arrogant about it all. But back to poor Iowa. If only they could compete with other schools on some of those traits I mention above. But they can't, except for maybe the oddball writing workshop (poor Michigan's writing program has to settle for only cranking out an Arthur Miller or Susan Orlean every once in a while just to keep up). So let's start rooting for schools that aren't that good, that don't attract better talent for whatever reason (in your model it's entirely geography apparently). My advice to the poor scrappy little underdog Hawkeye coaches: look in to bus fare to South & North Dakota (not to mention Montana), those poor Dakota high school stars have 0 BCS schools to go to, check out the math on that equation! Maybe these kids would consider Iowa. Or if you don't want to recruit out of state but you do want to bitch about your dearth of local talent, maybe we should just start the games with a handicap, like is often done in bowling and golf. Let's say Iowa has a "geography-talent" ratio that gives them, say, 7 points. Michigan might get only 3. Ohio State would get 0. Not a bad idea, since I'm sure you have some solid evidence that local population (as decided by state borders?) is the only real measure we should use. I can't imagine any controversy over that!

tina said...

I object to my comment's proximity to that of Crazy Anonymous Sarcasm Man, and I demand repositioning in the comment order such that mine is closer to the Gentle Good-Natured Teasing comments above.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tina, I finally have a name that I like! Crazy Anonymous Sarcasm Man...excellent.

The more I think about poor little Iowa, the more I think maybe we should just implement a high school draf and put all the kids who want to play college football in a pool, letting the college programs select them in some order that is fair. We would of course let the weak and miserable (oops did I say that out loud? I meant to say "the scrappy and underdog") select first, thereby evening the talent on the playing field, assuming we don't let schools hire smart draft experts that others can't afford...uh oh...but we can ignore those minor complications, right? Then after all the talent is divided according to a fair system, like the NFL, we can root for whichever school we like and feel good about it!

jeremy said...

Actually, this is a great problem for spatial regression analysis, where you could put in the latitude and longitude of the various universities and the populations of national census tracts. (One could examine whether, e.g., raw populations in a tract sufficed or whether one should be using populations as divided by racial categories.) This would basically allow one to examine the extent to which 'geography is mostly destiny' for college football and what schools seem to do well vs. poorly given their location. An interesting addition to that model would also put in the previous years wins, which would start to get at the issue of whether certain regions are basically going to have Alpha program(s) and Beta program(s), such that the decline of one increases the probability of the rise of another. Does a coach have a better chance of bringing the Kansas program to prominence before the rise of Kansas State? Presumably so.

Regarding the "better this, better that" of Ann Arbor vs. Iowa City, et cetera, my God: this is one of those reindeer games where the Ann Arbor person turns up their nose at the Iowa City person while the Bay Area or New York person gets to snicker at the idea that the variation in "cuisine" or "culture" between those two Midwestern cities is anything compared to what they offer versus Ann Arbor. If you want to feel arrogant about being from the University of Michigan by means of belittling other places, fine, just don't think your public university beyond its sports program is *anything* compared to Berkeley.

And on and on. What fun such conversations are. (BTW, I love Ann Arbor, and would consider playing football there if they asked me.)

(I went on to type a short disquisition here about people who seem actually to derive not just a casual sense of local pride, but actually some substantial portion of their sense of self-worth, from whatever geographic area with which they happen to be associated, but I deleted it out of a sense of bloggerly restraint.)

jeremy said...

Tina: I can't move comments around, of course. Besides, CASM means well, he's just, you know, crazy and angry and sarcastic and male. Anyway, to answer your objection, I don't know if Iowa's football coach is the highest paid state employee. It used to be Iowa State's basketball coach, before he lost his job in a weird drinking-and-partying-with-undergrads-from-opposing-schools scandal. In any case, while it might not seem "of the people" that Iowa's football coach should be paid so much, he actually donates 90% of his salary to various income redistribution programs around the state. The remaining 10% goes to Amnesty International.