Your Waterloo fallout update ... transfer news and thoughts on fauxtrage

A couple bullet points from the three-day story the University of Waterloo, et al., misplayed into a three-year story:
  • The long tail (or, thanks for spoilin' it for everybody else).

    This is like a baseball game where an outfielder misses a shoestring catch on a sinking long drive and a single becomes an inside-the-park home run.

    It's still topical enough for Steve Simmons to crack a pretty good one-liner:
    "This didn’t get a lot of play, but the new Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, is the former president of the University of Waterloo. Which means, any day now, college football will be banned from coast to coast."
    One doubt that happens if Waterloo had fully thought out the unintended consequences of its draconian action. Simmons could not make that joke if UW had put each full-time coach under suspension, suspended the players who had adverse tests, played the season and held a thorough review.

    Instead, the fake punishment will be the main preseason story surrounding the OUA, rather than a league coming off its most exciting post-season in years.

    Waterloo sitting out will get mentioned each week since one team will have the bye. It will be mentioned for years on end as coaches start from scratch.

  • Where do we go from here?

    A friend recently asked, "Do you honestly think Waterloo is not coming back?" A month ago the answer would have been yes. It becomes no when framed in by Johnston taking the viceregal post.

    The questions become (a) in what state do the grid Warriors return and (b) what is the long-term effect on OUA football?

    A. Recruiting will likely be exceedingly difficult for the first little while. What kind of coaches will want to take the job?

    B. Blog buddy Sarah Millar noted last month that what "could be most damaging from this report is how it looks on CIS football to the general public who doesn’t really care about university football — sorry, Canadian university football."

    There have been instances where one uncompetitive program slowly causes another program to become uncompetitive and it drags down a football conference. It happened in AUS with Mount Allison. It happened to the OUA in the 1990s with U of T.

    Very few in traditional media have addressed that question since they are either unaware or don't care about the league.

    Very few have even bothered to point this out this came during an upswing for OUA football. It is fresh off having three different schools reach the Vanier Cup in a five-season stretch (Queen's in 2009, Western in '08 and Laurier in '05), only the third time that's happened since the current version of the league took form in the 1970s.

    Waterloo made it all about them and everyone who cares about this league and wishes more people felt the same has to eat it. That sucks.

    It's a stretch to call out the sportocrats on King Edward Ave., "This is what can happen when you treat your product as a media nonentity."

    Still, if stadiums were full(er) and there were big TV contacts, that would have helped avoid such fallout.

    The quality of play might not be the issue. But this won't help with expanding the sport beyond its normal reach.

    (For anyone wondering, the other two instances were 1989-93 and 1991-95. Western had three appearances, including two wins, sandwiched around the '91 Laurier and '93 U of T national championship teams.)

  • Another OMD misses her connection.

    Maybe it's too much to ask someone to write, "New Governor-General David Johnston is the former president of the University of Waterloo. Anyone think that school cancelling football had something to do with saving him and Harperites from bad publicity?"

    Far be it to suggest that says more in fewer words. Writing tight is not really a priority for tabloid-format newspapers.

    Waterloo Region Record editor Lynn Haddrall mentioned each story in a recent column. She was too busy handing out gold stars to her staff to wonder about tying the threads together. Granted, that's not even the most glaring lack of perspective shown in the past week by a woman who used to work at the Kingston Whig-Standard, but come on.

    How can people not at least wonder about a PR move made by a university at a time when its head was joining Prime Minister Stephen Harper's bunch, which is more obsessed with optics than any other government in recent Canadian history?

  • OUA football's rich are getting richer.

    The Imprint, UW's student paper, has an updated list of 16 transfers (hat tip: Always OUA).

    It's kind of illuminating sort the new arrivals by the type of football schools they ended up at:

    • 10 to OUA playoff teams, so far.

      Four players have shifted to Laurier, McMaster and Guelph have each added three.

      The Marauders have gained Toronto Argonauts O-line prospect Michael Warner, running back Tanner Forsyth and WR Chris Korol, with the Gryphs getting all-purpose back Steve Lagace, slotback Nick Anapolsky and d-back Brett MacDonald.

    • Three to AUS schools.

      Three Maritimes have moved closer to home. Quarterback Andrew Hickey and O-lineman Colin Wicks have joined St. FX, with slotback Mike Squires joining Acadia.

    • Two to the left coast (and out of CIS).

      Quarterback Jon Roney is headed to NCAA Division II Simon Fraser.

      Offensive tackle Joel Reinders, who is headed to a NFL training camp with the Cleveland Browns, is listed by The Imprint as a UBC transfer. He's a long shot to make the Browns ("think practice squad"), but logically, if the Browns see enough to keep him around, they'll put him on that taxi squad and give him a chance to learn the U.S. game.

    • One to a team which could use the help.

      D-back Hugo Lopez has transferred to U of T. Perhaps a few more will surface with the Varsity Blues or York Lions and neither school has announced it yet.

    Point being, the redistribution of talent is a little disquieting, considering the two-tier nature of OUA football. None of the other three non-playoff teams (the same six schools have made the playoffs each season since 2007) have reaped as much.

    Please keep in mind that list of 16 might not give the full picture. The Western Mustangs typically do not announce additions until some time in August.

    It also does not include 2010 recruits, such as incoming Queen's quarterback Billy McPhee. It also doesn't include any 17- or 18-year-old who was leaning toward UW for 2011.

  • A possible MIA, likely courtesy of Pierre Karl PĂ©ladeau.

    People have wondered where Waterloo's best defensive player, linebacker Jordan Verdone, might land, but there's nothing about perhaps their best offensive player.

    Last season's leading rusher, running back Matt Socholotiuk (nine TDs as a 21-year-old rookie), gets Googlewhacked in news searches.

    The player's hometown, Waterford, Ont., is in the coverage area of two dailies, the Brantford Expositor and Simcoe Reformer, a former employer of yours truly.

    You can certainly question a daily newspaper for falling short on the analysis side, like in the above instance. Two major stories at a university, involving its chief cook and bottle-washer, have nothing to do with each other?

    Since everyone has the same info, it's more important than ever to be able to put events into context.

    The shrinking staff levels at small-city Ontario dailies owned by Quebecor Media means the notion of gumshoeing and enterprise reporting is almost a ghost.

    Essentially, either someone returns your call or you quickly have to move on, since guess what, content providers are being awarded points based on quantity of work. Quality, news value, digging, what's that?

  • A mea culpa.

    Yours truly worked at the Reformer in 2004-05, the height of PED hysteria. Socholotiuk was the standout offensive player in the local high school league.

    There were e-mails during the '05 high school football season to the two-person sports department asking, "We heard high school football players are doing steroids, why isn't there a story on this?"

    On another occasion, while chatting on the phone with a coach at another high school (not the one Socholotiuk attended) to set up a time to come by for a preseason story and a photo, he said of his player, "He added a lot of muscle this summer, and he did it clean, which I was glad to see."

    It was the old, "He's saying he's innocent but we never asked if anyone was guilty."

    Five years later, that all takes on a different light. These are all presented as reasons, some would call 'em excuses.

    A reality was the two sports staffers had so much on the go there was no time for the digging a story about local athletes' use of steroids, or whether they would use steroids, would have required.

    Such a story meant getting people to go on the record in a small community of less than 15,000 people, where the 'you have to live here' phenomenon was very present. There was reason to wonder, but hands were tied.

    Management likely would not have offered backing. They preferred quote, unquote positive stories. High school football was a big rallying point in a county that was already hard-hit economically, due to the death of the tobacco industry and other issues in agriculture. At Socholotiuk's school, Waterford District, which was in OFSAA's single-A division, the football and boys rugby teams were rare exceptions in being able to compete successfully in a high school association dominated by two large AAA schools based in Simcoe.

    There was also a sensitivity about the two bigger schools getting too much attention for their sports feats.

    There was also a personal opinion various gatekeepers in football and hockey in Canada were not taking steroids seriously. That possibly made it down to parents quite possibly condoning it as well.

    Perhaps it was analogous to how Junior B and Junior C amateur hockey teams in rural areas pay players under the table. Everyone does it, if they want to win, and no one ever calls out a rival, so it is never reported.

    If the people in charge don't enforce it, then is it really against the rules?

    We also know the shades of gray with muscle-builders. "Clean" is relative.

    Lastly, a drug story should be looked at in terms of actual harm addiction and substance abuse inflicts on society. In a rural area, that would give crack cocaine and crystal meth much more news value than a couple high school 'roiders. Impaired driving would be another.

    Heck, in a context of football in 2010, concussions that results from legal contact might be the bigger societal problem. No one has cancelled football out of concussion concerns, or about players dropping dead from heatstroke (which hasn't happened in Canada, thankfully).

  • In other words, journalists don't have the time and the governing bodies don't have the money. So this what happens.

    Ultimately, the CFL and CIS football are in a better situation with clamping down on steroid use, since the big league will test top prospects. That could have happened without sacrificing Waterloo's season.

    And let's lose the fake concern.

    Please remember how it played out in early 2008 when our own Andrew Bucholtz did a follow-up for The Queen's Journal after a fringe player at Western named Matt Baxter had a positive test. Baxter played early in the season but not in the playoffs.

    The point Andrew raised, as others have was that there was potential for steroid abuse due to the low frequency of testing.
    "Queen’s football coach Pat Sheahan said he would like to see the testing program expanded to include all CIS athletes.

    " 'There's ample opportunity for an abuser to slip under the nose of the establishment because the testing is random,' he said. 'Ideally, over the course of the year, all athletes should be tested.' " (Feb. 5, 2008)
    That is not what anyone remembered, though. No reporter looked at that and wrote about a larger problem.

    The focus became a Sheahan quote about the possibility Western had other users beyond Baxter. That sparked a follow-up to that by the London Free Press, which seized on it since Western had defeated Queen's in the 2007 playoffs. (The story is no longer available online.) The contentious quote was removed from The Journal's website.

    And that's where it ended, which is the point. No one can really do a lot of investigation. The overwhelming majority of CIS football players are more private citizens than the public heroes.

    It takes a bust by the police, a holier-than-thou university president's association with a Teflon PM and lastly, a corporate media with an addiction to fauxtrage.

    Thoughts about band-aid solutions, scapegoating and unintended consequences go by the wayside. That's wrong.
Thanks for listening again.
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  1. Great, great article. With a son headed for Mac this fall, I'm following the handling of this mess from two perspectives, as a long-time football fan and as a parent. I share Sheahan's desire to have ALL players tested at least once during the year. It's also nice to see the Waterloo transfers get spread out amongst the schools, although I would like to have seen more go to the "second tier" schools...

  2. In an ideal world, yeah, they probably would test each year, but that's too expensive.

    Best you can hope for is people will be responsible enough not to play fast and loose with their health.