Perception or Reality? ESPN Will Take the Perception, Thanks.

There is a phrase that I hate, but is sometimes true.  It goes "perception is reality."  Perception is not reality, because reality is reality.  It's not the fault of reality that most can't seem to grasp it, nor should reality apologize or change from being "right" just because some people perceive it as "wrong."  It's most frustrating when little bits of reality lead to a giant leap of perception.  One example of this is the notion that because Ohio State got whipped over 2 national championship games, the Big Ten must be a terribly weak conference that is outdated in every way; a slow plodding mess.  All examples to the contrary (such as Lloyd Carr's slow, plodding Michigan team pounding Florida last year) are immediately thrown out to make room for the perceived reality.  And so it shall continue to be, with Penn State's national championship shot being thrown out due to a perceived reality that may or may not be true.

Enter this article from the WWL's Michael Weinreb.  It's entitled "Big Ten Needs a Valient Bowl Season."  I couldn't agree more.  Nothing would further distance the Big Ten from the perceived weakness than a good, strong bowl season.  I've beat that drum since Michigan mercifully stopped playing football this year.  So you can imagine my excitement: finally a national writer is going to pour some sense into this Big Ten Bashing hysteria that has gripped the mainstream media since that fateful blowout of Ohio State at the hands of Florida.  Unfortunately, he took the other viewpoint, but instead of pointing out some perfectly legitimate, if a little "selective," gripes about the Big Ten, he goes...well...kinda wacko.  You see - there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Big Ten sucks, but Weinrab ignores them all.  Instead of pointing to performance on the field, Weinrab goes for the conference's mentality as a whole, which, as you will see, is dumb.  It starts strong:

But I also understand that the entire BCS system, despite its secondary reliance on esoteric computer rankings, remains the most prominent exercise in subjectivity in modern sports. The whole thing is essentially based on an educated guess, and in any situation like this one, where individual voters have the final say, perception is crucial.

Ok, so you're admitting that the BCS is a perception fueled machine, and that the Big Ten isn't perceived well.  So far, so good.  But he follows that up with

The Big Ten is slow and plodding and dull and backward-thinking. And that's why this BCS season matters more for the Big Ten than it ever has before: because it's increasingly perceived in the same way as the American auto industry -- as a once-great product of middle America that is in the midst of an irreversible decline....It's true, of course, that just as the Big Three automakers have often sabotaged themselves, the Big Ten has not exactly embraced innovation, either. This is a conference whose three most famous coaches (Paterno, Schembechler and Hayes) are renowned for their overarching conservatism. This is a conference that has long adhered to the trends of the past -- and often still does. Even their attempts to embrace modernity (i.e., Rich Rodriguez's debut season at Michigan and Penn State's hyperbolic "Spread HD" offense) have so far come across to a large swath of the nation as clumsy and second-rate.

I would like to see some sort of evidence, besides talking heads on the MSM, that says that the Big Ten is slow and plodding.  Sure, teams like Wisconsin play a version of power-football that seems to be in decline, but they're also a 2nd tier Big Ten team.  I don't see anyone complaining about how slow Arizona football is.  And backward-thinking?  Paterno, Tressel, and now Rodriguez - the three coaches of the triumvirate of "Big Ten Schools that Matter" - have all shown that they are now going to the newer spread 'n speed type offense.  And those coaches couldn't be further across the spectrum in terms of tenure:  Paterno switched to the spread and he's a bazillion years old; Tressel has mixed a spread and pro-style offense depending on his personal throughout his EXTREMELY SUCCESSFUL tenure at Ohio State; Rodriguez is the new guy on the street, hired by Michigan for the exact purpose of BEING FORWARD THINKING.  It then goes on to mention the same triumvirate of coaches, except that 2 of them are famous for games coached in the 70's and are in no way shape or form involved in anything remotely close to "the present."  It is idiocy to bring up past legends and compare them to their current programs.

Finally, he concludes with the fact that the Big Ten's grasps at modernity have been laughable to "a large swath of the nation."  Whoever those people are.  He mentions specifically Penn State's spread HD, and Michigan's flailing attempts at offense.  The first is actually ranked #15 in total offense, just 3 YPG below #14 USC, and ranked higher than teams like Florida and Georgia.  Oh - and that offense also got them to 11-1.  Laughable maybe in perception, but not in reality - and WHY SHOULD WE SETTLE FOR PERCEPTION WHEN REALITY IS SO EASY TO SPOT?  And to bring Michigan in as any sort of comparing point is just dumb - Rodriguez is a first year coach with no players who are suitable to run his style.  Yes, the offense stunk, but the preponderance of evidence suggests that when Rodriguez gets his players, and they have time to learn the system, that offense will be just fine.  Weinreb is laughing at an infant for not being able to play chess.  He continues:

For instance: The most crucial game in the Big Ten conference this season was Penn State's 13-6 win at Ohio State, featuring the league's two most exciting and mobile quarterbacks; yet it was dictated entirely by defense. On the game-winning drive, Penn State recovered a fumble, then advanced 38 yards for a touchdown without completing a single pass.

Ok, that game stunk offensively - but Ohio State's defense in #8 in the nation, and Penn State's is #5.  Apparently, only scores in the 60 point range with laughable excuses for defense count in this perceived reality.

The Big 12 represents the future: the notion that you can actually outgain every opponent you face and win a national championship. Their coaches are quirky men with pirate fetishes, and their quarterbacks have names such as Colt. It's all quite exciting...

...And the Big Ten? Its coaches have hip-replacement surgery and wear sweater vests, and its running backs have Depression-era nicknames like "Beanie." It's all about perception: hence, the notion that the Big Ten cannot compete anymore in a modern world, that it's a plodding sedan in an era of hybrids. That's why the conference finds itself at a watershed moment, with six of its seven bowl teams considered underdogs, and its top two teams (Penn State and Ohio State) set to face programs (Texas and USC) that embody the ridiculously wide-open future of the game.

The Big 12: Defense optional!  Oh - and apparantly the Big Ten can't hang because our coaches wear sweater vests, and our players have "depression era" nicknames. 

This article starts with a basic premise that could have served to actually enlighten the reader with reality, but instead opts to pile more garbage onto the perception bandwagon.  I'm not saying that the Big Ten is one of college football's great conferences this season - the evidence I see on the field does not support that.  However, Weinrab's accusations of the conference being slow and backwards - and the examples he uses to back these accusations - are misleading at best, and mostly just false.  I agree with his opening statements:  The Big Ten needs a big bowl season because for the BCS, perception is reality.  I just don't understand why he decided to explore - often times with stupid, meaningless ramblings - the perception instead of the reality.

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