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Sampson, Baylor, The Drew Manchu — Have Mercy

As Gonzaga’s perfect season looms inevitably, the best human stories of the NCAA tournament — like them or not — have been the redemption of Baylor and Kelvin Sampson … and one bad mustache.

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When Drew Timme is allowed to wear his Drew Manchu in public view — a handlebar mustache so hideous and 1981-ish that even his mother hates it — you know the NCAA tournament has become forgiving. Normally, the gods of March are punitive, known for forcing cheaters to vacate victories and remove banners. But this year, even in its vulnerable, Supreme Court-threatened state, March Madness has opened the Final Four doors to redemption.

Kelvin Sampson made impermissible phone calls not once but twice as a coach, a double-jeopardy disgrace that led him to college basketball’s gates of hell. Thirteen years later in Indiana, the state where he committed his second set of transgressions, he’s two victories from a national title with Houston, a program he willingly inherited in tatters.

How Kelvin Sampson repaired his career at Houston and resurrected the  Cougars, who are back in the Final Four - CBSSports.com

Have mercy on Sampson, says the tournament.

“You’re not a loser in anything until you quit. Don’t quit,” he once said of his exile. “Get up. Regardless of how it happened or why it happened, you get up — and you fight.”

The Baylor program was guilty of sins far uglier than recruiting violations. Patrick Dennehy was murdered by teammate Carlton Dotson in 2003, all while coach Dave Bliss was trying to cover up the homicide with a lie that Dennehy was a drug dealer. Enter Scott Drew, a coach of deep faith and ample patience amid substantial probation penalties. Eighteen years later, he has completed a historic sports resurrection by leading the Bears in their first Final Four since 1950, with the team best equipped to spoil the unbeaten championship season of Timme and Gonzaga.

“I felt led to come here,” said Drew, a spiritual presence amid all the sports-related wrongdoing in Waco, which should be spelled Wacko.

Have mercy on Baylor, says the tournament.

In the most imperfect season the sport has known, how preposterous that these two stories would emerge as the final potential disruptors to perfection. Houston and Baylor will meet Saturday not in the heart of Texas but in Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis, for the likely right to play the Zags in the national title game. It’s startling to see Sampson, looking every bit his 65 years, climbing a ladder and cutting down nets. He hasn’t spoken much about the broken rules that led to his purge from Indiana and the college game in general, opening up most memorably when he told the Washington Post, “I was angry after Indiana. I was angry at myself. I blamed myself. I was mad about how it all went down. I had a lot of emotions, but I also had a wife and a family. I had to take care of my family. That was my No. 1 goal.”

He has shared hugs with his wife and grown children after the Cougars’ four tournament victories. They’ve been with him every tortured step since 2008, when he was banned by the NCAA for five years and banished to assistant coaching roles on NBA benches. Working in Houston with the Rockets, he kept an eye on the campus crosstown, wondering if he might kickstart a sleeping giant that hadn’t won a March Madness game in 30 years and toiled in worse facilities than some YMCA leagues.

“I knew how bad it was,” Sampson said. “There was no guarantee this thing was going to get turned around, it was so bad. The thing that drove me back then — and I appreciate everybody on the wagon with us now — was the apathy. It doesn’t take much to motivate me. It doesn’t take much to activate this chip I have on my shoulder. You’re either with us or against us. If you want to be against us, we’re still going to do it anyway.”

Channeling his chip without bitterness, he recruited players who would adopt his toughness. He made a lunch date with Tilman Fertitta, the Rockets owner and avid Cougars booster, and said a national title was winnable with better facilities. Fertitta wrote a check for $20 million. Phi Slama Jamma, the brand name of those long-ago explosive teams that never won a title, was now Phi Swarma Jama — built on defense and snarl. Every bit of that swagger will be needed to beat Baylor, blessed with the country’s best guards and two-way dominance recently on display. The concern is that Houston hasn’t faced top competition, having played only one top-30 team all season — Texas Tech — and sliding through the NCAA brackets against 15th-seeded Cleveland State, 10th-seeded Rutgers, 11th-seeded Syracuse and 12th-seeded Oregon State.

“We may not have the brightest lights, but our lights shine as bright as anybody else’s because it’s all about team,” Sampson said. “We’ve taken a group of kids to get them to believe, and they’ve accomplished something nobody can take from them. They’ll always be known as a Final Four participant. They earned it too. I mean, they earned it.”

Like Gonzaga, Baylor has ascended into the ranks of the new bluebloods as the almighty likes of Kentucky and Duke wobble in uncertainty. The American sports mainstream is just getting to know Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler and MaCio Teague, but they all share a common denominator — they fit Drew’s vision, which prioritizes team over NBA lottery dreams. “I think it all comes back to one thing, and that is knowing your team and knowing your culture: who’s going to fit in and represent your program how you want it represented, if you bring in people that add to that,” Drew said. “No matter which avenue you look to bring in someone, do they meet what you’re really looking for?”

No longer a dream deferred, Baylor punches ticket to Final Four after  defeating Arkansas

From the tragic stench of the Bliss era to the sexual assault crisis in the football program, Baylor has been a sickening example of how not to run big-time athletics. This team is hoping to change the national perception, with a championship perhaps easing the pain of what could happen June 15: Dotson, serving a 35-year prison sentence, is eligible for parole.

For a time, it seemed Waco could host champions in men’s and women’s basketball. But the officials didn’t blow their whistles when Baylor’s DiJonai Carrington was fouled in the final seconds, preserving a Connecticut win in a women’s regional final more compelling than anything the men have produced. The social media mobs erupted, including LeBron James. “It doesn’t matter,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “It doesn’t matter what you write. It doesn’t matter what I say. It doesn’t matter what we saw. It doesn’t matter what we think. Life goes on.”

Life might not go on if Mulkey was put in charge of the infectious disease initiative in America. In a bizarre comment, she demanded the NCAA stop testing the Final Four teams for COVID-19 at the women’s and men’s sites. “They need to dump the COVID testing. Wouldn’t it be a shame to keep COVID testing and then you got kids that test positive or something and they don’t get to play in the Final Four?” she said. “So you just need to forget the COVID tests and get the four teams playing in each Final Four and go battle it out.”

The NCAA is damned fortunate only one outbreak has impacted the tournaments — when Virginia Commonwealth’s men’s team reported several positive tests and forfeited a first-round game to Oregon. And the referee who collapsed in the first half of the Gonzaga-USC regional final — might Bert Smith have been dealing with symptoms? No one needs Kim Mulkey acting like a COVID-iot, flip-flopping from her January comments after she contracted the virus. Said Mulkey at the time:  “The answer is this: The season will continue on. It’s called the almighty dollar. The NCAA has to have the almighty dollar from the men’s tournament. The almighty dollar is more important than the health and welfare of me, the players or anybody else. One conference does this, one conference does that. The CDC says this. Everybody is confused. I’m confused. I’m uncomfortable coaching. I understand, COVID is real. I’ve had it — come talk to me sometime.”

Maybe it’s a good thing the refs swallowed their whistles. We don’t have to hear her 180-degree ramblings this weekend in San Antonio.

The biggest college basketball story of this and other year begins today, when the Supreme Court considers whether “student-athletes” — currently treated like slave labor as the NCAA accepts another $1 billion payout from CBS and Turner — should be paid. This while Gonzaga tries to complete the first perfect season in 45 years, an apparent fait accompli after a rout of seemingly formidable USC.

Baylor, Kelvin Sampson, the First-Four-to-Final-Four UCLA Bruins … can anyone give the Zags a game? Or coax Timme, the best player of March, to shave his ‘stache, which is accompanied by a Will Ferrell headband? Did he actually pretend he was slicking down the ‘stache after a two-handed dunk Tuesday night?

“It’s something that really can’t be tamed,” Timme said. “I can’t even control it. I’m just glad everybody is having fun with it. That was the whole point of it.”

Drew Timme's mustache is the story of March Madness as Gonzaga advances to  Sweet 16 | Sporting News

“Every time he has that ‘stache, he’s been playing well,” teammate Andrew Nembhard said. “I’m all for the ‘stache, honestly. He’s that type of person with that type of personality. It fits, and we’re all for it at this point.”

Have mercy on the Drew Manchu, says the tournament.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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