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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Scathing Online Schoolmarm:
Flyover Guy-Writing

SOS has already discussed the category of prose she calls guy-writing. Flyover Guy-Writing is guy-writing from the heartland. Here's an example, from the Toledo Blade. There are problems.

Countless University of Toledo alumni and sports fans, and even the casual everyday observer who relishes dirty laundry being aired, must be wondering just how long Mike O'Brien will be able to hold onto his job as UT's director of athletics. [Background here.] [And, uh, as to style... If you've been following SOS at all, you know we've already got a wordiness problem. Yes, the laundry thing is a cliche, but sports writers only do cliches, and we're about to get a full hamper of them. So forget cliches. Just factor in cliches. Look, instead, at the words jamming things up: both casual and everyday, when one of those two would be better... There are other bad signs: The word "relishes" isn't quite right for the laundry image, and there's his choice of the clunky "to be" word ("being") in place of something smoother...]

Me? I wonder why he'd even want to. [This is good. Strong, simple, and gets its own paragraph. Note that he'll nicely return to this point at the end of the piece.]

His department is being micro-managed by the president's office, which has also been the source of much information that has found its way into media reports lately. [Is... has... has... Again with the dull "to be" words. And don't forget content, as the writer's argument revs up: He's trying to defend a very corrupt athletic department -- a difficult thing to do even with excellent writing ability -- by complaining that it's really an okay place, just suffering from micro-management... He fails to point out that it wasn't managed at all for so long a time that it became impossibly corrupt: The new oversight is a direct result of the department's own fuckupery.] UT's relatively new president believes that public business should be conducted in public. That's fine. But it is one thing to conduct public business and it's another to let a major department head publicly twist in the breeze.

O'Brien isn't perfect. There's enough smoke coming out of UT to indicate there might be a fire or two at least smoldering. [Sure, sure, the cliches ... the bizarrely mixed figurative language... But I'm telling you that this is how all sports writers write... ] Maybe he hasn't paid enough attention to every paperclip and every penny. [Cry me a paperclip. We're talking bigtime corruption here. This is where Flyover Guy-Writing most clearly expresses itself. The guy's a booster. Probably buddies with many of the principals, etc.] Maybe coaches and administrators have overstepped vague bounds when it comes to travel and expenses. [Why are they vague?] Maybe having revenue from an away basketball game sent directly to a third-party sporting goods company was a bad idea. (Actually, there's no maybe about that one.) [A tragic schizoid thing begins to emerge here, in which the guy both acknowledges obvious malfeasance and complains about people who point it out...] Maybe the athletic deficit is too large, although I'd defy you to find many, if any, [many, if any, is pretty weird] mid-major universities playing Division I-A football that are operating at a profit. [Hey, that's right... To all the other stuff we can say about programs like Toledo's, we can add money-loser.] Maybe some of the staffers at Savage Hall should not be enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program.

And, of course, there's the smoking e-mail. In the aftermath of the merger of UT and the Medical University of Ohio, which took place just over a year ago, an assistant athletic director whose job was to oversee business affairs and monitor finances was dismissed, ostensibly because her position was absorbed by the merger. It was hard to buy from the start. If the alumni director at one school or the other was let go it would make sense. [A bit obnoxious, I know - just reminding you about the WAS problem...] Or a public information officer. Or a campus police chief. Or a president. One merged school, one merged job. But MUO, to my knowledge, had no athletic department. So in what way did the merger render this woman's job unnecessary? It didn't add up.

O'Brien, who is a smart man, then did a very, very stupid thing and it might ultimately cost him his job. [The wordiness thing again. Drop who is. Drop then. Drop very - you don't need either one of them. Like a lot of intensifiers, these actually dilute. Drop ultimately.] Knowing that this woman, by now a very disgruntled ex-employee who was never popular among the Savage Hall set - in part, perhaps, because she was counting every paperclip and penny - was talking to The Blade, O'Brien sent an e-mail to a Blade executive attempting to discredit her and her story. It said, in part, that "I had to eliminate her role as she was a tremendous blow to our morale, among other things." [I'll go through this quickly, since you're getting the idea: Drop by now; drop very; drop who was; instead of she was counting, write she counted.]

The former assistant AD is expected [write will probably to avoid yet another to be word] to file a lawsuit challenging her termination and that e-mail could end up being very expensive [drop very -- and if you want to get rid of the "being very expensive," rewrite the phrase: that email might really cost the university -- something like that.] for UT. O'Brien must have been temporarily brain dead to have clicked the "send" button.

So, all is not well at UT and with O'Brien. And, you may note, we haven't even mentioned the alleged gambling scandal, once a sizzling topic, which now is simmering on the back burner as the FBI presumably goes about its business. That will likely be another story for another day.

Oddly enough, considering all of the above, I'll go on record as saying Mike O'Brien is a heck of an athletic director [Here's where the tragic schizoid guy thing comes in. Having written a spectacular indictment of the place, he will now swear undying love.], at least in regards to the things UT fans really care about - wins and losses, championships, academics (and it might be a stretch to say college sports fans anywhere really care about that), scheduling, game contracts, and facilities. [Off the rails here. So the writer cares only about the shit the fans care about? And what's that thing about academics? Bizarre.]

In fact, had he done nothing else since being hired in January of 2002, O'Brien should be inducted in the Varsity T Hall of Fame for negotiating one contract for one football game. On Sept. 19, 2009, the Rockets will play Ohio State in Cleveland Browns Stadium. Toledo will be the home team, which is an unprecedented coup, and will pocket the proceeds from an allotment of 58,000-plus tickets. The game is an automatic sellout and UT's net proceeds after expenses should top $2.5 million. And that may be conservative. To our knowledge, only one athletic director of one mid-major college football program has ever signed his name to such a contract. The day the tickets go on sale will be the day Toledo's athletic deficit all but disappears.

UT also will realize a $500,000 payday for a recently-announced football game at Michigan during the 2008 season. Over the next four seasons, the Rockets will play home football games against Purdue, Iowa State, Fresno State, Boise State and Arizona, among others.

O'Brien played the lead role in orchestrating a $5 million gift from UT graduate Chuck Sullivan and his wife that jump-started the Savage Hall renovation project. An indoor practice facility for football is also in the advanced planning stages. Needed renovations to several minor sports venues have also been accomplished under O'Brien's watch. And, for seven straight semesters, at least half of UT's athletes have compiled 3.0 grade-point averages or higher. [Well, this is all fine, and I'm sure it means that Toledo's program will soon be one of the few in the country to be profitable, as well as an academic role model.]

Prior to the smoking e-mail, Lloyd Jacobs, the university's president, said publicly that he wanted to retain O'Brien and extend the AD's contract beyond its June, 2008 end date. But he then appointed a committee to examine O'Brien's performance and make a recommendation regarding any extension. Strange. [Not strange. Someone who understands the term "tipping point" finally got to the university's president.]

Jacobs has announced a restructuring that moves all athletic compliance and financial accounting under the central administration. He removed from the post of faculty athletics representative a respected law professor with 17 years in the position. He suggested in a letter to O'Brien that laws may have been violated in the control of medications and that the AD should consider replacing the head team physician, a contract employee for 18 years with impeccable, nationally-recognized credentials in sports medicine, with an employee of the university's Health Science Campus. He requested an inquiry by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, which subsequently found no critical problems and no laws broken.

Jacobs also declared that all returning football and men's basketball players would be subject to an interview with a special counsel appointed by the state attorney general's office before their eligibility was certified for the upcoming school year. He put a spin on it but, frankly, it sounds every bit like forced participation in an internal investigation into the alleged gambling scandal.

So, to sum up, the UT athletic director has the main campus finance and compliance offices, internal investigators, a contract committee, a special counsel, the Health Science Campus, a new faculty rep, an inquisitive media, possibly the FBI, and most definitely a president who seems intent on reinventing the athletic wheel looking over his shoulder.

Mike O'Brien may or may not be able to keep his job.

Frankly, I can't imagine why he'd want it.

A lot of flyover guys can't think straight. They've got a barroom charm UD likes to be around. But they can't think straight. They emotionalize everything. UD stirs her pina colada and smiles at them sympathetically as they spin their tales, but inside she's thinking There, there, little fella...