Tom Nichols' esports take topped the hot takes this week.

Welcome back to This Week In Hot Takes, back after a week off. This time around, we’re looking at the hottest sports takes from media members from Aug. 24-30.

5. Dan Shaughnessy calls a Red Sox win “the most demoralizing victory in baseball history”: Yes, the 8-7 win the Boston Red Sox recorded against the Miami Marlins Tuesday, with the winning run coming on a walkoff throwing error by Miami shortstop J.T. Riddle, wasn’t the world’s most impressive result. The win moved the Red Sox to 91-42 and dropped the Marlins to 53-80, so Boston wasn’t exactly playing a titanic opponent, and this saw the Red Sox blow leads in both the eighth and ninth inning. Marlins’ manager Don Mattingly said “Obviously, the ending was not very good” afterwards, and Boston Globe baseball columnist Nick Cafardo started his game story with “Usually after a walkoff win, you feel pretty good about the night’s work. But the Red Sox didn’t so much as win this one,” and used that story to raise questions about the Boston bullpen. That’s all understandable; some games are lost more than won, and even a win can be an opportunity to examine a team’s flaws. But Cafardo’s fellow Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy really brought the hyperbole when it came to discussing this on Twitter the next day:

That’s quite the absurd take. There are plenty of actually-demoralizing victories in baseball history, from ones where a team won while suffering an injury to a star player that wound up destroying their season (Pyrrhus knew a thing or two about that idea) from pennant race wins where a team won, but didn’t make progress or didn’t make the playoffs thanks to results elsewhere. And in a different light, this win could even be seen as a rallying moment for the Red Sox, one showing their determination to fight on despite blown leads and bullpen struggles. Criticism of their play is fair, especially with the winning run coming on that error, but calling this “the most demoralizing victory in baseball history” is a ridiculous argument.

Rating: 🔥🔥

4. Jason Gay and The Wall Street Journal publicize Steven J. Brams and Aaron Isaksen’s idea of “fixing” baseball by only giving the leading team two outs: Sticking with baseball, there have been plenty of dumb arguments that something’s wrong with the game and plenty of dumb proposals to “fix” it, but one this week particularly stood out. Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Gay decided to devote his column to a “Catch-Up Rule” proposal from NYU game theorist Steven J. Brams and computer scientist Aaron Isaksen to reduce blowouts and speed up games by…giving whoever’s leading at a particular point only two outs per inning. Including if they take the lead partway through an inning. Here’s Gay’s argument for it:

I know: it’s simple, but jarring. I don’t expect the old school types to like it. Baseball isn’t a sport accustomed to big changes. People still fight about the designated hitter, and that rule was introduced in the Middle Ages.

But the Catch-Up Rule offers everything baseball is asking for in 2018. Pace of play and competitive balance are the two biggest crises for the sport. Here’s a single, oddly basic innovation that addresses both.

This seems like a terrible way to address both these issues. For one, let’s talk about the pace of play issue, which is the main argument Gay seems to be making here, with competitive balance as a secondary one. Brams and Isaksen concluded from applying this to “more than 100,000 games over the last 50 years of baseball, both regular season and postseason games” that average margin of victory dropped from 3.21 runs to 2.15 runs and outs per nine innings dropped from 52.5 to 45.9, which they think would reduce game time by 24 minutes. But this is a data set obtained by applying a rule to historical outcomes where the participants didn’t know the rule, and it’s reasonable to think they would behave very differently if they did. This particular rule makes it so it’s highly advantageous to stay tied or even behind by one run until late in the game, then score several runs at once to take the lead. And that’s going to lead to a whole lot of strategizing, substitutions and conferences, all of which delay the game. Yes, there may be a time savings from fewer outs, but it seems unlikely it will be as significant as Brams and Isaksen argue.

Beyond that, this has plenty of other problems in what it rewards. From a game design perspective, it’s a catch-up mechanic, which punishes whoever’s in the lead and rewards whoever’s behind in an attempt to make the final result closer. Think of the blue spiny shell in Mario Kart (which you’re only likely to draw if you’re behind, and which only specifically targets the leader), or of the leading player being last to buy resources and expand their network in Power Grid. That can be fine in a casual video or tabletop game where a key concern is the enjoyment of the players themselves; a closer result can enhance their experience, and neither catchup mechanic is so strong as to completely override the importance of skill. But in a professional sport, you’re presumably focused on the enjoyment of the fans, not the players, and it’s at the very least unclear that fans would support the idea of winning a game largely thanks to poor play early on. (If we want to talk about “demoralizing victories,” this would really be one.)

And there are all sorts of opportunities for wacky, counterintuitive strategies with an approach like this, especially as this mechanic applies the same penalty to a team up by one run or four runs. So there would be strong incentive to only try and go ahead by several runs at a time, working on loading the bases and then swinging for the fences. (And people already complain about the amount of focus on home runs in MLB today.) Conversely, it might well be in the pitching team’s interests to walk in the go-ahead run with two outs and end the inning, only allowing one run and reducing the opponent to two outs going forward. So there would be all sorts of odd-to-watch situations. And that’s to say nothing of the emphasis this places on late runs versus early runs. All of a sudden, a run in the ninth inning is far more valuable than one in the first. (This would also have a whole lot of implications for how managers use their pitchers.)

And let’s talk about competitive balance. Yes, in theory, there are some bonuses for leagues in having policies to promote competitive balance. There’s the idea of fans of every team having at least some hope, and that leads to measures like salary caps, luxury taxes, and giving worse teams better draft picks. Whether those actually bring in much competitive balance in the end is debatable, and most leagues seem to do just fine out of having regularly-dominant teams (which particularly shine in the TV ratings), but the base idea of “competitive balance is worth promoting on some level” is something most leagues embrace.

But, crucially, those competitive balance measures kick into play on a season-long, roster construction level, not an in-game level. On a season-long level, they’re constraints the teams can work to mitigate, and they don’t particularly make fans feel like their team’s less deserving. (Often the opposite, as with the “Trust The Process” idea in Philadelphia that produced a lot of high draft picks; many Sixers’ fans are pretty happy their team got all those rewards.) In fact, the purely financial elements here aren’t even inherently punishment for doing well; they wind up being somewhat that way thanks to GMs wanting to pay players who found success on good teams, but they’re more of a leveling the playing field than a punishment for success. But in-game measures like this would be a strict punishment for doing well and a massive reward for doing poorly, and they would mean that individual games would be more often won by teams who do poorly in early innings. That’s not a desirable result. And this whole idea has a lot of problems when applied to baseball; Brams and Isaksen get hot take points for coming up with it, and Gay and the WSJ get points for promoting it.

Rating: 🔥🔥🔥

3. Kirk Herbstreit “can’t wait” for follow-up stories on Michigan State being “proven innocent,” wonders if reporter who asked Tom Izzo tough post-game questions will be there now: There’s an understandable frustration out there when negative stories get significant play and later follow-ups or corrections aren’t given as high of a profile, and that seems to be what ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit was going for Thursday. However, the way he did that created a lot of deserved criticism. Here’s his initial tweet (since deleted):

For one thing, the NCAA ruling that Michigan State didn’t break any NCAA rules in the Larry Nassar case, or in the allegations of assault against members of the football and men’s basketball teams (what Herbstreit is more specifically referencing here), is far from “proven innocent”; it’s a ruling that the school didn’t violate NCAA procedures, not that they didn’t do anything wrong. There’s plenty of debate over if the NCAA’s current reporting and investigative procedures are strong enough, and this ruling may only add to that, especially in the case of Nassar; reports there have raised plenty of questions about how the school handled allegations of sexual assault against him. It’s also notable that both Michigan State’s president and athletic director resigned in January, which doesn’t exactly support the “We did nothing wrong” argument.

Beyond that, while the allegations against men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo and football coach Mark Dantonio involve many less cases than the Nassar saga and are not directly linked to it (they involve questions about how those coaches handled incidents of sexual assault and violence against women by their players and staff members), and while there’s been frustration by many Michigan State fans over media coverage that seemed to equate the coaches’ actions to the numerous sexual assaults Nassar was convicted of across decades (specifically, an ESPN graphic that included Nassar, Dantonio and Izzo), this ruling does not mean that Izzo and Dantonio were justified in their handling of these cases, or that the reporting on those cases (much of which was done by Herbstreit’s ESPN colleagues at Outside The Lines) was incorrect, or that reporters were wrong to ask Izzo tough questions about this (as Herbstreit seems to be indicating here), or that this story is over with them “proven innocent.”

All this ruling means that the NCAA doesn’t have a problem with how the coaches handled these cases. As we’ve seen repeatedly in recent years, the NCAA standards are far from universal, and there are many who still are highly upset about the reported behavior of Dantonio and Izzo, including Izzo allowing a student assistant coach to continue with the team after being criminally charged for punching a woman in the face and later accused of sexual assault, and Dantonio’s limited actions against players accused of violence against women and sexual assault during his 11-year tenure (plus his claims that allegations of sexual assault “had not happened previously” when they had). The NCAA deciding that those coaches didn’t violate NCAA procedures doesn’t dispel all the questions about their behavior, and it raises more questions about the NCAA’s procedures. It’s far from a “gotcha” moment to yell at the media, including colleagues, but that’s what Herbstreit used it for. He did later apologize, though.

Credit to Herbstreit for the apology here, but this still wasn’t a great look for him.

Rating: 🔥🔥🔥

2. Colin Cowherd and Skip Bayless argue that Jim Harbaugh’s resume is “far more impressive” than Nick Saban’s, Harbaugh’s “the best coach” : With college football season here again, there have been some spicy takes out there. One particular one comes from a couple of FS1 personalities, who made the argument that Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh (a 28-11 record at that school with finishes of third, third and fourth in his division, plus no career national championships and no major conference titles (he did win two Pioneer League titles at San Diego)) is a better coach than Alabama head coach Nick Saban (a 132-20 mark at that school with five national titles and five SEC titles, plus a further national title and two further SEC titles from his days at LSU). Here’s Cowherd this week saying that Harbaugh’s resume is “far more impressive”:

Here’s Bayless last week (yes, technically beyond our dates here, but we’re counting it) saying that Harbaugh is the “best coach” because all Saban does is “recruit” (which, you know, is part of a college football coach’s job):

Those are insane takes. Saban is one of the most accomplished college football coaches ever, with an argument to maybe be the most accomplished. And while Alabama is a perennial powerhouse now under him, the Tide have had plenty of struggles under other coaches (predecessor Mike Shula went 26-23, 10-23 after 16 wins were forfeited), so it’s not like their success is regardless of their coach. Meanwhile, Harbaugh did impressive work at San Diego and Stanford, but his Michigan tenure so far has raised plenty of questions, and some argue he’s even on the hot seat this season. Promoting him as better than Saban at this point seems nuts, and you have to wonder why Cowherd and Bayless are both doing it. I’m sure the fact that they work for a network that doesn’t have SEC rights, does carry Michigan games, and even went so far as to have a “Harbus” and “Harbros” (oh, and Harbaugh himself promoting Fox at upfronts) is entirely coincidental.

Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 for both.

1. Tom Nichols says “the idea that ‘professional eSports’ is a thing is a big part of what’s wrong with America.” In the wake of the mass shooting at a Madden ’19 esports tournament in Jacksonville last weekend, many pundits have decided to weigh in with hot takes on video games being the real problem. And conservative pundit and author Tom Nichols had maybe the hottest take there:

“Millennials are causing the decline of American imperialism with their esports” is a fun new one. (To say nothing of the idea that “imperial decline” is inherently a bad thing.) And can we note that America actually isn’t the world’s leading country at esports by most metrics? So if it’s “imperial decline,” the U.S. isn’t experiencing the worst of it. And of course this would have defied the imagination 20 years ago; so would the existence of Twitter. Times change. The idea of professional sports itself (which Nichols doesn’t like either) wasn’t always a thing, and many early professional athletes wouldn’t recognize today’s games.

The idea of people being paid to appear in movies or on TV would have “defied the imagination” before those techologies came along. But people have always paid for entertainment, and if people are being entertained by watching esports events, why shouldn’t the people they’re watching be compensated? There’s nothing more ridiculous about making a living playing esports than about being an author and professor like Nichols. And many esports competitors probably have much more of an audience and a following than he does. No wonder he thinks that’s something “wrong with America.”

Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥

Hot Take Standings: 

Jason Whitlock – Hall of Fame
Stephen A. Smith – 208
Skip Bayless – 188
Phil Mushnick – 142
Colin Cowherd – 71
Rob Parker – 44
Doug Gottlieb – 41
Shannon Sharpe – 35
Ray Lewis – 25
Albert Breer – 23
Britt McHenry – 20
JT The Brick – 20
Charles Barkley – 19
Dan Shaughnessy – 19
Ben Maller – 15
Don Cherry – 15
Bill Plaschke – 14
Andy Benoit – 13
Chris Broussard – 13
Dan Dakich – 13
Rick Morrissey – 13
Darren Rovell – 12
John Middlekauff – 11
Tony Massarotti – 11
Jason McIntyre – 11
Michael DeCourcy – 11
Keith Olbermann – 11
Joe Simpson – 10
Danny Kanell – 10
Bob Brookover – 10
Jeremy Roenick – 10
Berry Tramel – 10
Kristine Leahy – 10
The Sporting News – 9
Mike Francesa – 9
Ross Tucker – 9
Ryen Russillo – 9
Garth Crooks – 9
C.J. Nitkowski – 9
Jason Smith – 8
Steve Simmons – 8
Frank Isola – 8
Michael Rapaport – 8
Bart Hubbuch – 8
Kirk Herbstreit – 7
Cris Carter – 7
Pat Forde – 7
Michael Wilbon – 6
Pat Leonard – 6
Luke Kerr-Dineen – 6
Terry Bradshaw – 6
Greg A. Bedard – 6
Tom Nichols – 5
Keith Hernandez – 5
Bill O’Reilly – 5
Brandel Chamblee – 5
Michael McCarthy – 5
Mike “The Reputation Doctor®”  Paul – 5
Dennis Dodd – 5
Rich Lowry – 5
Chris Reed – 5
San Diego Union-Tribune – 5
David Hookstead – 5
Tomm Looney – 5
Alex Shaw – 5
Rick Reilly – 5
Randall Mell – 5
Ian O’Connor – 5
Michael Bamberger – 5
Bob Bubka – 5
Cathal Kelly – 5
Pete Prisco – 5
Damien Cox – 5
Bill Simons – 5
Christine Flowers – 5
Jason Lieser – 5
John Steigerwald – 5
Josh Peter – 5
Alexi Lalas  – 5
Greg Gabriel  – 5
John Moody  – 5
Marni Soupcoff – 5
Ryan Rishaug – 5
Kurtis Larson  – 5
Rod Watson  – 5
Dan Wolken – 5
Chuck Modiano – 5
Joel Klatt – 5
Steve Buffery – 5
Joe Morgan – 5
Michael Felger – 5
Howard Eskin – 5
Nancy Armour – 5
Richard Justice – 5
Ameer Hasan Loggins – 5
Jesse Watters – 5
John McGrath – 5
Mike Sielski – 5
Gordon Monson – 5
Scott Fowler – 5
Mike Bianchi – 5
Terry Frei – 5
David Jones – 5
Sabrina Parr – 5
Abbey Mastracco – 5
Terry Cushman – 5
Rob Rossi – 5
Rick Bozich – 5
Michael O’Doherty – 5
Simon Briggs – 5
Dan Wetzel – 5
Mike Parry – 5
Bob Ryan – 5
Robert Reed – 5
Pete Dougherty – 5
Dan Le Batard – 5
Marcus Hayes – 5
Kyle Turley – 5
Mike Ditka – 5
Erril Laborde – 5
Lowell Cohn – 5
Rosie DiManno – 5
Evan Roberts – 4
Corbin Smith  – 4
DJ Siddiqi  – 4
The Express  – 4
Mark Kiszla – 4
Greg Witter – 4
Myron Medcalf  – 4
Bill Polian – 4
MJ Franklin – 4
Alex Reimer – 4
Joan Vennochi – 4
Graham Couch – 4
Matt Yglesias – 4
Bill Livingston – 4
Michael Irvin – 4
Shawn Windsor – 4
Brock Huard – 4
Byron Tau – 4
Maggie Gray – 4
Michael Powell – 4
Mark Spector – 4
Chad Forbes – 4
Gary Myers – 4
Mark Schlereth – 4
Andy Gray – 4
David Fleming – 4
Jeff Pearlman – 4
Tony Grossi – 4
FanSided – 4
Tony Kornheiser – 4
Mike Felger – 4
USA Today op-eds – 4
Nathan Ruiz – 4
Jason Gay – 3
The Wall Street Journal – 3
Steven J. Brams – 3
Aaron Isaksen – 3
Will Muschamp – 3
Buck Lanford – 3
John Feinstein – 3
Stan Fischler – 3
Sonnie Wooden – 3
Chris Jones – 3
Kelly Smith – 3
Reggie Miller – 3
Mark Madden – 3
Larry Brooks – 3
Dan Canova – 3
Steve Rosenbloom – 3
Stephen Jackson – 3
Mike Sando – 3
Walt Borla – 3
Chris Russo  – 3
Nick Cafardo – 3
Ice Cube – 3
Justin Peters – 3
Elise Finch – 3
Kevin Skiver  – 3
David Bahnsen – 3
Harold Reynolds – 3
Kevin Reynolds – 3
Mike Sheahan – 3
Bob Ford – 3
Steve Greenberg – 3
Matt Burke – 3
Malcolm Gladwell – 3
Mike Milbury – 3
Mac Engel – 3
Nick Kypreos – 3
Caron Butler – 3
Don Brennan – 3
Robert Tychkowski – 3
Mike Johnston – 3
Jeff Mans – 3
Joe Browne – 3
Mike Harrington – 3
Greg Mitchell – 3
Ed Werder  – 2
Ben Mulroney – 2
Ron Cook – 2
Brian Kenny – 2
Barrett Sallee – 2
Craig Calcaterra – 2
Max Kellerman – 2
Gareth Wheeler – 2
John Cornyn – 2
Tony Dungy – 2
Bruce Jenkins – 2
Chris Wesseling – 2
Seth Greenberg – 2
Doug Smith – 2
Newsweek – 2
Teddy Cutler – 2
Will Cain – 2
Bill Cowher – 2
Paul Finebaum – 2
Charley Casserly – 2
Amin Elhassan – 2
Jim Henneman – 2
Mitch Lawrence – 2
Nick Wright – 2
Domonique Foxworth – 2
Gary Parrish – 2
Michael Farber – 2
Andy Furman – 2
Donovan McNabb – 2
Seth Davis – 2
Jon Heyman – 2
Jason La Canfora – 2
Booger McFarland – 2
Joe Schad – 2
Cork Gaines – 2

Thanks for reading! Tune in next week for more This Week In Hot Takes. As always, you can send submissions to me via e-mail or on Twitter.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.