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Thoughts from TMQ

Since I am absolutely devoted to reading (eventually) the entirety of Gregg Easterbrook’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback column on ESPN.com, I thought I’d share some of my favorite non-NFL bits each week. Below are my favorites, you can read the football parts and other miscellany here. (I prefer the image-free version here.) This week is also the annual “all-haiku” predictions column. TMQ also features a weekly “Obscure College Score of the Week” and tidbits on “creep” of various sorts (like Christmas displays in stores before September). Overall, a fun, though lengthy, read.

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On college football:

OSU, Miami — Birds of a Feather TMQ noted that caught in an NCAA scandal, Ohio State president Gordon Gee claimed the school’s football program “ranked first in academic performance among the nation’s top 25 teams.” Problem — this is not true. But Gee’s statement was accepted by the media as if true. It’s hard to know which is more dismaying — the president of a major university trying to bluff his way out of a scandal with false claims, or the media for being too lazy to check.

In our spin-cycle world, all that seems to matter is that Gee got away with it. Other colleges noticed! Last week Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami, tried to squirm her way out of The U’s football scandal by declaring, “The academic achievements of our student-athletes are mentioned in the same breath and spirit as Notre Dame and Stanford.”

As shown by Allie Grasgreen of the invaluable Inside Higher Ed, this claim too is simply not true, except in the literalist sense that Shalala herself mentioned the three schools in the same breath. The latest federal graduation rates, Grasgreen notes, show Notre Dame and Stanford graduated a very impressive 91 percent of their scholarship athletes, while the University of Miami graduated 67 percent. Notre Dame graduated 85 of its football players, Stanford 82 percent. Miami graduated 64 percent, only slightly above the Division I average (see below). “By the standard metrics used to gauge athletes’ academic performance, Miami does not approach the other two universities,” she writes.

Credit Inside Higher Ed for fact-checking a big school’s flimsy excuse. Shalala says the University of Miami is “first and foremost, an academic institution.” If so, that university’s president should not be making specious claims.

The Miami and Ohio State football teams meet on Sept. 17. It’s almost like the 1986 SMU Mustangs meeting the 2001 Crimson Tide. OSU-Miami should be blacked out for humanitarian reasons.

The NCAA Looks Worse Every Day Are Ohio State and Miami bad apples in a mostly good barrel? Check the recent findings of the College Sport Research Institute of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The report concludes that the graduation gap — football graduation rates versus the student body overall — “is sizable, particularly for Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conferences that compete at the highest level.” About 68 percent of male university students graduate, the report found, but only 54 percent of Division I football players graduate.

Perhaps you are thinking, “I am sick of hearing about poor academic performance in college sports. All I care about is the game.” As economist Charles Clotfelter of Duke University points out in his important, meticulously researched new book “Big-Time Sports in American Universities,” at major colleges, football and men’s basketball are marketed as commercial entertainment that is aimed primarily at people who have nothing to do with the schools involved. And it’s great entertainment. I woke up Thursday in a happy mood because college football started that day.

But while the intended audience may care only about the games, when college football players spend four or five years focusing all their time and efforts on sports, then fail to graduate, they have been used up and thrown away by the system. Spectators and boosters get something out of the deal, namely, great entertainment. The players who don’t graduate get nothing. And the NCAA does not seem to care, so long as the money flows. The NCAA says the right things for public consumption, but does nothing to change the collegiate incentive structure. As TMQ has noted before, just include graduation rates as a factor in BCS rankings, and overnight, football-factory coaches will start insisting their players be in class.

Blue Turf Is So 2008 Jim Johnston of Leesburg, Va., notes that Central Arkansas is debuting a field of alternating purple and gray stripes.

Love the reference to the importance of fact checking claims based on statistics.

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Why Aren’t Prosecutors Charged With Misconduct? Criminal charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn have been dropped, though a civil case against him continues. DSK and his accuser Nafissatou Diallo have something in common — both were mistreated by New York prosecutors.

When DSK was arrested, extensive detail of damning allegations — whose truth or falsity had never been tested in court — was leaked to the media, allegedly by prosecutors. When prosecutors turned against Diallo, they were again accused of leaking to the media damning allegations about her — accusations that had never been heard by a judge or jury. In both instances, prosecutors apparently considered their own quest for publicity more important than the presumption of innocence.

This would have outraged the Framers, who imposed the grand jury system for the purpose of keeping accusations out of the media until they could be proven or disproved in court. As TMQ noted last year, “Prosecutors are supposed to charge people with crimes or leave them alone, not pass along allegations whose truth or falsity have never been assessed by a jury.”

In the Framers’ day, the British Crown harmed political opponents by leaking unproven allegations about them. The Framers wanted prosecutors to speak only in court under the supervision of judges, to prevent them from misusing their powers via off-the-record slander. Instead, today prosecutors, such as New York’s Cyrus Vance Jr., face accusations that they leak allegations left and right, seeking publicity. Prosecutors call news conferences to get themselves on television, discussing as fact claims that have not been proven. This is at the least irresponsible, if not prosecutorial misconduct.

The DSK-Diallo case is not some weird aberration. In many instances, prosecutors do not merely make honest mistakes, rather, engage in active misconduct — cases from the trumped-up charges against the late Alaska senator Ted Stevens to this horrifying instance in which prosecutors fabricated the evidence used to convince an innocent man of murder.

Yet prosecutors almost always waltz away scot-free. And why don’t major media outlets cry foul when government attorneys abuse their office? Because media outlets want leaks from prosecutors. Unproven allegations make for smokin’ yellow journalism.

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Brandon Lee Was Killed by a Dummy Bullet — Yet in Cinema, Real Bullets Are Harmless: TMQ has been railing against Hollywood depicting heroic characters being shot yet instantly fine again, thus making gun violence seem far less deadly than it is.

In the fine 2010 remake of “True Grit,” the heroic Texas Ranger played by Matt Damon is shot in the chest — and instantly fine, without treatment. We see a small hole on the front of his coat and another on the back. “Bullet must have passed clean through you without doing any harm,” Rooster Cogburn muses. These kinds of movie touches give audiences a highly distorted view of gun violence.

Not content with heroes merely being shot and yet unharmed, Hollywood is pushing the envelope. Reader Allen Forkner of Omaha, Neb., writes, “In “Die Hard 4” and in the first season finale of “Rizzoli and Isles,” the heroes deliberately shoot themselves, so the bullet would pass through their own bodies and strike the baddie behind them. The bad person instantly dies, while the heroes are depicted as having ‘merely a flesh wound.’

“In this Hollywood fantasy the bullet does no harm to the first person hit, the good guy, yet the same bullet retains enough energy to kill the second person hit. That aside, with very close-range gunshots, the bullet is only part of the problem. There is also the matter of hot, high-pressure gas following the bullet down the muzzle. Normally, the propelling gas harmlessly expands in the air. When the gun muzzle is in contact with the body, the gas enters the body and burns tissue, cauterizes arteries, damages organs. In both of these Hollywood depictions the hero, against whose body the gun is pressed, would have suffered significantly more damage than the evil-doer, because the hot expanding gas would have ripped up the hero’s body.”

In 1984, an actor named Jon-Eric Hexum was killed by expanding gas while filming a detective show for CBS. Clowning around, Hexum pressed a prop gun loaded with blanks to his head and pulled the trigger. Though the gun held no bullets, expanding gas from the propelling charge of the blank round was strong enough to shatter Hexum’s skull and do fatal damage to his brain tissue. In 1993, actor Brandon Lee was killed filming a stunt when he was accidentally shot with an inert “dummy” bullet. This is what firearms do to the human body. Why must Hollywood glamorize violence by presenting guns as practically harmless?

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Enjoy the rest here.

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