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February 24, 2009 - 5:01pm



Rule One: Never make your reader laugh when she's not supposed to.
SUNY Binghamton got blasted in the New York Times for running a typically scummy Division I basketball team. Big deal. Tell it to Auburn. SUNY should have ignored it. No one cares.

But the president got all huffy, and so did SUNY's newspaper. Let's look at its sports editor's opinion piece.

Over the weekend, a story written by Pete Thamel came out in The New York Times concerning Binghamton University’s men’s basketball program, its head coach Kevin Broadus and other members of the school’s administration, including school President Lois DeFleur. The main focus was to drag the program’s name through the mud, and to be perfectly frank, I was offended by the entire piece.
[Drop "main." Much more importantly, remember what SOS has told you countless times: NEVER begin pieces of this sort by telling people how offended you are. No one gives a shit how you feel. It doesn't advance your argument. In fact, it retards your argument by personalizing things. Remember that a lot of people figure bigtime university sports as currently run are all about raw emotions, and really can't be justified in terms of anything a university represents. This sort of immediate announcement of how royally pissed you are confirms that suspicion. It's a completely empty polemical move.]

[And lose the "to be perfectly frank" nonsense.]
Like any student on this campus, I have heard all the rumblings about the “criminal element” of the team, the recruiting practices of the coaching staff and other gripes. Many of them have come from people who attend other institutions, but very few from people here in Binghamton.
[Why the quotation marks? We're talking about criminals. Remove the marks. Or can only "people who attend other institutions" recognize that people repeatedly jailed for violent crimes are criminals? Is SUNY a kind of mentally challenged Cosa Nostra?]

... [E]ven if these rumors [When did what the NYT report become rumors? You lose your reader's confidence when you do sly stuff like this.] do prove to be true, are we all so naive to think that the exact same thing isn’t going on at countless other institutions in this country? I sincerely hope that we’re not. [Drop the last sentence. And what a powerful argumentative move: Everybody does it.]
So I was surprised to see names from the faculty, and even formers players going on record to sully the good name of the basketball program in this article.
[Sully the good name is a terrible cliche. Everyone knows, and the NYT simply reports, that the sulliers are your coach and players. Our suspicion that we're in Calabria heightens now, as the writer attacks the local clan for breaking omerta.]

After reading through the article three or four times, it became apparent to me that the people quoted in the article, with the exception of most of the administration, were either disgruntled former faculty members, or former players who couldn’t hack it under Broadus’ tutelage.
[Pure example of ad hominem argument, in which, having no legitimate arguments, you hit out at people and call them names. Note that at this point the writer's entire defense of the school is based on visceral emotion...

But SOS! I hear you cry. How DO I defend the indefensible? ... Hold on. There IS a way. I'll tell you in a sec.]
The article also states that Broadus is known for “recruiting good players with questionable backgrounds.” This might be the case; I won’t disagree with that. [Good. You want to concede some stuff in this sort of piece. Good move.] Current stars D.J. Rivera, Malik Alvin and Emanuel Mayben have all had academic issues elsewhere. However, until it comes to light that they’re having the same troubles here at Binghamton, I don’t think there’s any reason to lose sleep over it. [Another cliche, and SOS is confident they're all already in trouble. Wake up.] And yes, players have also been in trouble with the law this season. Alvin was charged with assault, but the charges were later dropped. The way the article portrays the incident, it seems as if he maliciously attacked an elderly women. In reality, he knocked her over while running — albeit in the midst of an accused theft. [BINGO! What a beaut. See Rule Number One. SOS is still laughing over this line, and this is her third reading.] Still, this is a case where the casual reader will misinterpret the facts because of Thamel’s wording. [Yes. We want to be careful how we write.]
As with any negative article concerning the program, the piece brings up Miladin “Minja” Kovacevic. I don’t need to go into what he did; we all know. [What? You mean because he beat someone almost to death and then fled the country?] However, it is important to note that he is no longer a part of the program, and therefore Broadus isn’t responsible for his conduct. Kovacevic was at fault, and no one else involved with the program. [Except the people who recruited him, lad...]


Okay. So you say: SOS! How can I defend my indefensible basketball, football, whatever program??

Listen up. There's only one way.

You have to be able to do a Gore Vidal / Christopher Hitchens / Evelyn Waugh / Oscar Wilde type defensive play here. If you're an undergraduate squirt, you're not going to be able to do it, so you have to hire a grown-up ghost writer. You can try reading those writers and learning their techniques, but it'll take you years to imitate their moves.

The only way to play this one is with haughty sophisticated hilarious cynical indifference. High-handed doesn't begin to get at it. You'll need to saunter onto the field and open with a sentence with such an irresistably rascally drawl to it that your reader laughs along with you at all those bad boys on the team.

Think Truman Capote, sucking on a long cigarette and batting tired ironic eyes at you... Think of what the Ridiculous Theater Company would do with this problem, and do that.

You don't know what the hell I'm talking about. You're not meant to. You're a sincere sports fan. But only camping it up and appealing to your reader's cynicism will win this one.


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