Tuesday morning, we flagged an article in The Millions called "The Problem with Sportswriting." In it, the author, Sebastian Stockman, having dived 544 pages deep into John Feinstein's navel, resurfaces with a great head-slapper. Stockman writes:
Feinstein was researching his book The Last Amateurs, on The Patriot League, a scholarship-free, NCAA Division I athletic conference. Basically, he wanted to attend two games on a certain Saturday, one was at noon, one was at two p.m., and the venues were two-and-a-half hours apart. So, he asked the Holy Cross athletic director to change the time of its game with Lehigh. And, because Feinstein was by this time a perennial bestselling author whose book was sure to give the Patriot League and its schools unpurchasable publicity, the two teams acquiesced, and Feinstein — the reporter who was observing a typical season in the Patriot League — got his way.
Well, we couldn't resist: We dropped $15 on the e-book and can now give you the whole weird story, which is a sort of dickhead's parable about the observer effect. Feinstein, who moonlights as a Washington Post columnist when he's not farting out mediocre books, introduces the anecdote as if confessing to something for which—as you'll see—he feels not the least bit sorry: "Since eleven years have passed, I can now reveal that for all the complaining I've done throughout my adult life about game time being changed for TV, I was responsible for a game time being changed while I was researching The Last Amateurs." He goes on:
Each week I would sit down on Sunday night and plan my schedule for the next week. It would be based on who was playing whom, logistics (a day like the one where I could see two games back-to-back was an obvious choice), and whomever I hadn't seen in a while. I was driving everywhere, knew the hotels cold by midseason, and didn't even really need my credentials since everyone working in all seven buildings knew me by then.
Looking ahead to the last weekend of the season, I saw a problem. Army and Navy were closing out their regular season at Army at noon on Saturday. That was a game I needed to see because it was Army-Navy, because it was the last home game for the Army seniors, and because Navy needed to win to keep pace with Lafayette in the race to finish first. The highest-seeded team hosted the championship game and, given that each had beaten the other at home, that figured to be critical. Lafayette would be at Bucknell on Sunday to close out the season, so there was no problem getting there.
The problem was Chris Spitler.
Had it been early in the season, Lehigh at Holy Cross, scheduled for Saturday at two o'clock, would hardly look like a game I needed to attend. And at this point, both teams were in the bottom half of the league. But Spitler had become a central figure in the book and it was his last home game. Not only that but he was the only Holy Cross senior left and there was certainly something symbolic in that.
There was no way I could be at West Point for a noon game and then at Holy Cross—about two-and-a-half hours away—for a two o'clock game.
I called Mastrandrea. "I know this is crazy," I said, "but do you think there's any way you could play your game that day at seven instead of two?"
Frank thought for a minute. "Logistically, I don't see why not," he said. "There's no TV involved. We could easily get word to our season ticket holders [of whom there were at most three hundred at that point] and our students. As long as Ralph and Sal don't object, I don't see why not."
Neither Ralph nor Sal objected. In fact, they were glad to help me out. It would mean Lehigh would get home much later, but it was a Saturday, so the players could sleep in on Sunday. No one bothered to check with the league office because there would have been such paralysis in making a decision we might still be waiting for an answer right now.
So the game was changed to a seven o'clock tip. The only complaint I heard was from one of the women's assistant coaches at Lehigh. In those days the men and women played doubleheaders in the Patriot League, and the women's tipoff was moved from 12:00 to 4:30. When the women's coaches asked why—a reasonable question—they were told it was to accommodate me.
I guess they didn't like that and one of them decided to tell me so. "You should be ashamed of what you did," she said to me in the hallway of the Hart Center when I walked in at about five o'clock. The women's game was at halftime and Holy Cross, which back then had the best team in league, was winning easily. Apparently that was because of the time change.
I wasn't ashamed and it was well worth the effort.
This is all pretty amazing. (You have to wonder what his bosses at the Washington Post would think if Feinstein ever pulled shit like this for his column. Oh wait—no, you don't.) What's even more amazing is that Feinstein is telling this story himself, in his memoirs, as if it were something noble and brave, an honored veteran's old war story. "Apparently that was because of the time change," Feinstein quips, determined to get in the last word on a Lehigh assistant, unaware that his own memoir makes him out to be a total knob. Hey, at least it's accurate.