Vol. 46, No. 2 • February 2009 • .pdf version
• Dick Jerardi: Final Four coming at us in high gear
• Joe Mitch: '79 champs to highlight Final Four breakfast
• Steve Carp: We're here to help
• Brian Burwell: Coaches or writers more worthy evaluators?
• Dana O'Neil: Leave the podium for politicians
• Trio dominates best writing contest | Complete Results

Bryan Burwell

Knightline: Are coaches or writers the more worthy evaluators?

By BRYAN BURWELL / St. Louis Post-Dispatch

When Bob Knight talks, it's hard not to listen. Knight is a larger-than-life character whose achievements in sports make him impossible to ignore. Sometimes he says things and you smile. Too often, he says things that make you cringe. But the one thing I love about Knight is that he's a rare sort of basketball-coaching icon/emotional storm cloud who can command respect, provoke debate and enlighten and disturb minds in the blink of an eye.

I don't always agree with Knight, but I can never dismiss him. Last week was another one of those impossible-to-ignore moments, when the legendary coach who has settled quite nicely into retirement as a basketball “consultant” to ESPN (fyi coach: You're not really a "consultant." You've crossed over to the dark side.), made a great point about how we in sports can't get our Hall of Fame voting right.

In the aftermath of another semi-controversial baseball Hall of Fame vote by the pro baseball writers, Knight raised the question on ESPN why writers and broadcasters – many of whom never played the game at a high level – were in charge of such a significant process as determining the athletic immortality of those men and women who did.

In Knight's mind, this is a terrible mistake. The conversation was sparked by baseball, but it could have been about every acknowledgement and sport where writers and broadcasters have a hand in determining who receives such lofty awards.

Whether you agree with Knight or not, you still have to admit that it's a worthwhile discussion.

Personally, I think it's a fair question. Whether it's a vote for the Oscar Robertson, Naismith or Heisman trophies or the basketball, football or baseball Halls of Fame, I firmly believe that every sports writer needs to put ego aside and take an honest personal assessment of whether they are qualified to cast such a significant vote.

Ego aside, who among us deserves to be entrusted with the responsibility?

But here's where I differ with K night to a certain degree. He assumes that journalists as a whole are immediately unqualified for the job. That's no more correct than assuming that every coach or ex-player is qualified.

Here's where I think Knight is right. We ought to carefully take a long hard look at the process. I n baseball, where there are more than 500 voting members of the baseball writers association who cast votes for the Cooperstown Hall (and too many of them who are lifetime voters who no longer actively cover the game), the numbers are too unwielding.

But closer to home, I just wish we could do a better job of self-policing our own ranks to make sure that we are placing the responsibility for these awards in the right hands to avoid giving even a hint of credibility to criticisms like the one Knight registered.

If someone asks you to participate in the Robertson, Naismith or Heisman voting, decline the invitation if you're unwilling or able to put in the hard work to make sure you're picking the right player or coach. That means watching the games. Lots of them. Have the critical conversations with players, coaches and scouts whose well-trained eyes can provide insights that you might lack.

I think to a certain extent, Knight's objections have some substance. Some folks don't deserve to hold that sort of significant power. Voting for these significant awards and Halls of Fame are privileges, not rights granted to you simply because you have a press pass dangling around your neck and a prime seat at courtside.

But I also think that the folks who agree with Bob Knight need to do a little soul searching too. I f every coach or ex-player who was charged with voting was as dedicated a guardian of the game as the legendary former coach, I would gladly insist that more votes should be placed in the hands of the proper custodians.

Knight is one of the most brilliant basketball craftsmen to ever stalk a sideline. Even in retirement, he takes his job seriously, and I 'd trust him with the daunting responsibility of evaluating who belongs in the basketball Hall of Fame any day. But come on, not every coach or ex-player – or current player – takes the game as seriously as Knight.

Coaches and ex-players bring just as many hidden agendas to the process as any sports writer. Some of the same men who are dismissive of writers are the same ones who hand their weekly ballots in the USA Today weekly coaches polls to their sports-information directors.

Many of them are tunnel-vision mad geniuses who wouldn't know Stephen Curry from curried goat because the A ll-America guard isn't on a DVD of conference opponent game breakdowns handed to him each morning by an assistant coach.

The truth is, the best custodians of the game can come from every walk of the sporting life. A whistle around your neck isn't an immediate qualifier any more than a press pass is an immediate disqualifier.

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