Sunday, April 25, 2010

Race Fairy Tales: Review of The Blind Side

With the NFL draft over, the media is rife with hope, anger and tales, tales of players and their paths to the riches of the NFL fairy land. Let's think about one such tale.

The archetype is clear. Fairy godmother touches the life of a downtrodden dispossessed child. No pumpkin, but a truck carries the transformed player to the big dance. Instead of hidden royalty, (excuse the mixed metaphor) we get an ugly duckling who grows in the swan of an NFL star.  In a modern update, the fairy god mother proves that armed with her Christianity and friendship with the DA and packing her NRA pistol, she can stare down the nightmare black monsters who threaten her protégé. Welcome to the world of The Blind Side.

Every year immense wealthy public and private universities garner huge publicity and serious money during the intercollegiate football season. The power and magnificence of this sport of organization, intellectual complexity and violence depends upon young minority males recruited from often deeply disorganized and violence-saturated backgrounds. The sport taps into the anger and violence of these young men. It depends upon “controlled rage” for its execution and appeal. One of the most wrenching paradoxes citadels of higher learning face is the incongruity, some believe incompatibility, between the type of young men recruited to play football and the commitment of the university to academic and educational pursuits.

The incongruity cuts across several fault lines. First, many of the students who enter the university for football reasons are no-where near academically prepared to achieve in college classrooms. Second, many of the students have no clue how to comport themselves socially within the classroom or on campuses informed by middle class norms and expectations. Third, many of the minority students feel isolated and conspicuous on campuses that feel largely white, female, Asian.

The Blind Side won an Oscar for Sandra Bullock and turned into a sleeper hit garnering over 200 million dollars. It narrates one story that was woven through Michael Lewis'  brilliant book on the intersection of pro football  and college recruiting and class and race, The Blind Side. Quick and dirty:  the movie chronicles how Michael Ohr, a physically  immense and marginalized young black male in Memphis, finds his way through charity, luck and sport talent to an all white Christian Academy in Memphis. He struggles academically as he bounces from  bumming beds to sleeping in laundromats and boiler rooms. A successful white family (the father runs many franchises in Memphis) ends up providing Michael Ohr a place to sleep, eat and eventually live. The family adopts him, buys him a car and hires a tutor to help him overcome his woeful academic background in order to win a scholarship to play college. The husband and wife are avid Old Miss boosters, and in the end Ohr commits to Old Miss. But not before the whole business is investigated by an archetypical NCAA Nazi lawyer (played by a black female) and accuses the boosters of intentionally adopting Michael and providing all these benefits for the purposes of recruiting the offensive tackle to play at Old Miss, their alma mater. The NCAA lawyer points out this could set a precedent for boosters all over the country to adopt young poor minority players to groom them to play for their alma maters. In passing the movie notes that Ohr’s high school coach takes a job at Mississippi after Ohr commits.

Several aspects of the movie seek to reassure us that the fault lines of race/poverty and college sports’ exploitation of them are not things we need to worry about. First, the couple played by Sandra Bullock and Toby prove to be surprisingly caring and instinctive in their response to Michael, and they take him on before they know of his immense talent;  they just see his size and his isolation and poverty. Second, in a strong motif, they movie portrays Michael as “Ferdinand the bull” a gentle giant who possess an immense desire to protect family and people.

The theme is exploited in one of the movie’s best scenes where Sandra Bullock overrides  Ohr’s beleaguered coach  in typical coach speak screams at Michael to motivate him to block hard. She swaggers out onto the field, pulls Michael aside and convinces Michael to think of the team as family and have their back. The violence and anger that so many young minority football players wrestle with and makes them so dangerous to themselves and others and so effective on the field, is tamed by a children’s metaphor. Third, in a teeth grinding scene with her well coifed friends, Bullock tells them she is not changing his life, “he is changing mine” to reassure us that this story is about love and mutual transformation. Fourth, in one of its few glimpses into the moral complexity of the situation, after being humiliated and hectored by the NCAA lawyer (not at all unusual for NCAA lawyers) Ohr asks his adopted mother, “WHY?”

Bullock has no easy answers and in the end even has to ask Michael if he even enjoys playing football, for it was both his size and football potential and his isolation and poverty that attracted them to him. If he had been one more poor disenfranchised black kid who was 5’ 9” and skinny, this story would not have happened.

Other well off families often find themselves accidental custodians of young dispossessed black male athletes who find their way to their homes. Often the young men arrive “recruited” to the private schools for their athletic ability but without any social or economic resources to survive in a different class and racial environment. More often than not the relationship begins when the young men come over for dinner with a teammate, and it often evolves from compassion, need, concern, guilt friendship and protection into helping and taking care of a young minority athlete without a lot of social capital. The intact family helps the young athlete to thrive at the school or to figure out how to navigate the college byways.  The movie hints at a far more common and pernicious problem which is the the penchant of colleges to hire high school or AAU coaches or handlers of the young athletes to their programs as  part of a package recruiting deal. This is a far more serious and systematic problem that again trades upon the young athletes vulnerability and trust and affection for adults.

On the other hand, the movie reminds us of a vital lesson that needs to be relearned again and again and again. Race and class matter, but love and friendship can engage those barriers, sometime even surmount them. This reality is rare but vital to remember. The existence of unique and lucky acts of charity cannot replace policy nor assure us that all is well at the intersection of class, race and college athletics, but now and then, it gives us a lesson that at the human scale

No one knows how many young minority athletes find their way through this very odd combination of interest and care where white parents become surrogate guardians of players who may have not social or economic means to sustain themselves yet have drive and talent to succeed in the gladiatorial world of football. But it is not a pretty sight nor one particularly worthy of celebration. It highlights the absolute vulnerability of the young minority athletes. mythologizes the noblesse oblige of intact middle class families while entangling emotions, interest and race in unbelievably complicated ways. The picture of the movie softens with humor and strong protagonists the aching inequality and pain beneath it.

(PS: As irrelevant asides, I can’t tell you how many NCAA violations I counted in the movie or that occurred in the real life story of Ohr. The other interesting factoid of the movie is that not a single coach seen or worshipped in the movie remains at the school they coached when the events transpired.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Being a Fan is a Moral Stance II

We've all experienced it. An obnoxious, usually drunken young or middle aged male dominates your section yelling invective and abuse. In any silence, his nasal alchohol inflected voice shouts out another irrelevant obscenity. He's an equal opportunity spewer attacking the home team as well as the opposition. The portrait has particular clarity with a recent episode where Matthew Clemmens  (mug shot pictured) intentionally vomited on an 11 year old girl and her father after Clemmon's companion was removed from the game for abusive behavior.


Alcohol suffuses the American sports culture; actually it seems to suffuse all the male sport cultures everywhere. It sponsors the teams; it invokes and encourages conviviality; it fuels bar profits and arguments; it amplifies and distorts the emotional engagment of fans. Sports, money, booze all contribute to degrade fans and degrade those around the imboozled fans. 

It's worse for us with kids who are trying to both enjoy the game but also teach kids how to enjoy the game, appreciate the sport and root for a team without become a boor. 

The alchohol fueled degrading of fans has its counterpoint in fan radio and sports talkshows. Taking their cue from the shock jocks of right wing politics, the sports shock jokes encourage and need outlandish rants and raves and irrational engagement. Of course alot of their shows are financed by alcohol companies and most teams have official drinks, you can even get special team bottles. These fanatics lose sight of the game; they lose sight of the humanity of the players on both sides; ultimately they lose the ability to appreciate the game, the play, and the players. Their own ego and need to win overrides respect for the athletes.

The moral core of being a fan lies in respect for the game, respect for the players and respect for the team. We can love and identify and share and participate, but the core moral value behind this is respect. When we put on team jerseys or hats, we put on a uniform and become warriors supporting a team. But warriors in sport live by rules and as fans who wear those colors and sport our identification, we should abide by them also. As I mentioned before when seeing he game, teaching the game to others and living with the game, appreciating the sport and being able to say "good play" for the other side is a critical indicator of the moral balance of a fan.

Being a fan is a moral stance, and we  have obligations to take on the boors, fanatics and abusive hooligans.  One good fan can stop the contagion of the wretches. One good fan can become a rallying point for a loud, clear and fun appreciation and support of the team and game. 

Most fans are true but need examples and support and can rally around against the rowdies who would drag us down. Just as in any other area of life a acting well and cheering and supporting well invite others to join us and provide models for others as well as giving them courage to do the same. 

We can learn from moms. Moms are really good at this at games for shaming the nutty dads; they learn it at early soccer games where they have to protect kids and keep crazy fathers in check from abusing kids while living their own lives through the kids. They know the key here is to respect the athlete and respect the discipline of the sport, which can mean failure as well as success.

They pollute the rest of us just like they pollute the airways with the encouragement of radio and alcohol.  Each individual fan who participates and influences the game should  stand up to the idiots and mean spirited. We have this obligation to protect the teams, the spirit of the game, the young kids learning how to be fans and to protect the environment of the game. We should carry this on not just at games but when we are home enjoying a raucous game with friends and when we gather around with friends. I don't mean giving up good solid yelling and arguing, but I mean respect the game and respect the folks. 

We can draw lines, clear lines at abuse that invokes racist or sexist language. We can call them out. We can draw lines at abuse that attacks character of athletes especially youngsters and collegiates. We can draw lines at attacks on family and blood and nationality. We do this in how we cheer and act and criticize and we do this by calling out the idiots.

Teams themselves can do alot about this. the first thing any team could do is ban the sale of alcohol but that won't happen. So teams and stadiums need active strategies.  A number of colleges now actively work with the student booster sections to educate them, to set rules and encourage hard but clever heckling.  Coaches meet with the groups to encourage and reward behavior.

 Strong enforcement of alchohol regulations and kicking people out quickly help. In many ways baseball, the most family friendly of sports, pushes this the farthest. The Mariners have developed a strong and tightly enforced code of conduct that not only sets boundaries but gives good fans the option to stand up or to get help knowing they will be supported by the rest of the crowd and the ushers. The MLS will try the same approach, which will be interesting given the penchant of soccer hooligans to make European soccer killing grounds for their own class and race and geographic angers.

I have reprinted the Code because I think it works and does a better job than I could of summarizing how to create a culture to encourage good fans. At the core it means be engaged, have fun, but respect and don't be cruel.

Code of Conduct
The Seattle Mariners are committed to creating a safe, clean and friendly experience for our guests at Safeco Field. Our staff will proactively intervene to support an environment where guests can enjoy the Safeco Field experience free from unacceptable behavior, including the following:
  • Foul/abusive language or obscene gestures
  • Intoxication or other signs of impairment related to alcohol consumption
  • Use of tobacco products in any form.
  • Displays of affection not appropriate in a public, family setting
  • Obscene or indecent clothing
  • Any disruption of the game or event, including throwing of objects or trespassing on the playing field or in restricted areas
  • Sitting in a location other than the guest's ticketed seat
  • Fighting, taunting, or making threatening remarks or gestures.
Any guest not adhering to the above code or behaving in an unruly manner will be removed from the ballpark. The Seattle Mariners and Safeco Field management reserve the right to determine what is unruly or unacceptable behavior, warranting removal.
The point of the game is fans matter. Fans join a team as a we. When we join a team and wear its uniform, we participate and participation means rules that we abide by, enforce and create and in creating we bear responsibility for the tone of our fandom. This imposes obligations on us to respect the sport, support the team and not be cruel. We hand on the values and stance to those who follow us. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Difference between Fans, Spectators and Audiences

I have a friend who attends all the basketball games at University of Washington. He endlessly works the sidelines. "Nice shot, Q." "Good D., Mac." He calls encouragement and criticism to the players which they often hear. He works the refs. "How could you do that Wanda!" "You owe us 2 now, Kathy." "Nice call, Bill." I watch him carefully because he epitomizes the nature of a true sports fan. Fans are not spectators and not audiences; just watch the participation of the painted school clad fans at the NCAA tournament.

Spectators watch. The Latin root of the word emphasize "seeing" and "watching," sometimes in a disinterested way. Spectators can be very sophisticated, watchers know the nuances of acting or playmaking and enjoy the finesse and fine points of the game, art, spectacle. You can often recognize them as they lean forward with intent stares and moving eyes. But in a sports context they remain passive in their interaction with the game; they watch, analyze and appreciate. (of course there are spectators like those who watch too much beach volleyball who gaze and oogle rather than watch and see, but that is another story)

Audiences hear. Again the Latin root gives it away; audiences listen to the audio dimensions of the world. Symphonic audiences provide an archetype; they listen in intense attention enraptured by music. Sophisticated listeners hear theme and variations and transpositions and understand and appreciate the nuance and mastery of musicians whether at Cleveland symphony or Green Day or Sugar Land concerts. Some listen with their whole bodies and you can see their  metronome feet or hands move  or they sway with their whole bodies. Sometimes they hum or mouth or sing along with the music or voice; many modern musicians invite this form of participation and the audience jumps in.

An experience like Cirque de Soleil creates both audience and spectator with its multidimensional world of sound, site, action, fancy, music, acting, gymnastics and sheer virtuosity. But at the core, the spectator and audience member remain receptors of the experience.

Sports fans participate in a different way. The linguistic roots are obscure for this uniquely American term but seems a shortened form of fanatic. That should warn us right away.  Linguistically, fanatics are "inspired by god, mad, enthusiastic" and carry a lot of frightening connotations that suggest fans move beyond reason and analysis into a different realm. The regular soccer riots and deaths in Europe do nothing to dispel these linguistic and emotional roots.

Sports fans create and shape the experience of sports. They are not passive receptors but active parts of the game itself. They influence action on the field of play. As my friend demonstrates, true fans participate in the sports. Go to a college game and you find bands blaring, student sections hollering and waving hands. Fans desperately impart emotional energy, support and distraction whenever they can. At football games they cheer so loud they force teams to wear radios or use sign language to convey plays. In basketball games they augment runs and try to break the other team's momentum or concentration.At races runners can literally feel and be moved by the energy from the fans.

Fans matter so much that sports often has a "home field advantage" largely created by the fans in the stands. Student sections and fans heckle and try to get inside players heads; they work to take players out of their games or reinforce their own players. They work referees as hard as any sideline coach. Leaving aside the litigation about who owns the "12th. man," a number of teams rely upon their home fans to give them a home field advantage. This advantage grows from the fan's emotional contagion and the comfort and the support it imparts to players. The fan base can infuse energy and hope in emotionally flagging moments as well as provide an endless stream of invective against other teams. Sports fans actively shape the environment in which athletes play as well as interacting in some obscure way with players and teams, for good or bad.

I've often commented upon how individuals who follow sports teams link an aspect of their identity to the team's presence and actions. This identity carries over into memory, but it also affects off field behavior. Fans sit in front of TVs with other fans wearing paraphernalia and talk, socialize and scream at TV suffering when their team suffers and exalting when their team excels. More than a few of us have been known to bow our heads or fold our hands in supplicant prayer--we know God has better things than to attend to a Mariner's game--but we do it anyway.

If you want an interesting lesson into the fanatic psychology of American sports culture, just peruse the hundreds of thousands of blogs devoted to teams and sports or follow twitter about teams and players. The vast majority carry rants and raves and expletive laden infantile comments upon teams and the going ons. But a surprising number (witness this one) offer thoughtful and interesting commentary upon their teams, sports or culture. The world of baseball is laden with sophisticated blogs like Fangraphs that link remarkably obsessive and smart individuals (who clearly need a life) who bring to bear passion and sophisticated analytical imaginations to offer fascinating ways to analyze and understand their beloved sport.

This baseball blog sphere now interacts with the world of professional assessment of players as well as leading to more interested and engaged fans for teams and sports. It offers an opening into sports for the life of the mind as well as the life of identity, aesthetics and deep appreciation of the form and achievement of human possibility.

Fans are different and that difference has some important implications for how they should act as fans. Being a sports fan is an existential choice. It involves a way of being in the world and relating to other human beings. The point of the game is being a fan involves a moral stance. It means acting in ways that impact others and the game. This  means it involves obligations and responsibilities. As a friend of mine reminded me,  spectators refer to "the team" and fans use the word "we."

I think being a fan involves taking oneself seriously and how we act in relation to our team but also to other teams and to other fans. At the core, we share a common appreciation of the sport and its own dynamics, but because fans often link their identity to their teams, the very ugliness that communal loyalties can unleash can climb out from fan tribal loyalties. So being a fan involves not just passion but, as I have written in another post,  being responsible  and self-controlled in your passion and loyalty.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Beginning; Stonehedge & Baseball

Who needs Stonehedge when you have baseball? The winter solstice has passed and our Seattle druids have done their dances and the things druids do to celebrate the coming of spring. Over in Stonehedge, the ancient observatory captured the sun's moment (give or take 2800 years) and announced the arrival of spring.

All I needed to do was turn on the radio. The sound buzzes, a midwestern summer evening. The sound murmurs,  a Pacific low tide. The sound chirrups, a symphony of southern cicadas. The sound hums like a forgotten tune or well tuned car out for a new ride. The sound returned today after the long silence. The rolling lilting sound of fans in a baseball stadium. Enjoying the game, enjoying each other, enjoying the time and place. Baseball season returns.

The vernal moment signals a beginning but also an end. This last weekend, well within the penumbra of spring's birth, the NCAA tournaments ended. The men's game provided a rare excrutiatingly played game to round out a wild and wooly season. The woman's game climaxed in a more stately manner with both the favorites playing, ugly but strong basketball and making history in the process. In the course of one weekend, the winter life of indoor college basketball ended (I think there is a pro league somewhere that continues into mid summer or something). On the same weekend basketball ends, baseball begins.

Baseball carves out time and space.  The length of the seasons gives fans a rhythm and timing. But the overlap with spring/summer also gives baseball a deeper subconscious anchor. The stretch of time provides a social anchor as well as a focal point for many fans; baseball is always there, each evening with its game and play. It fills spaces or complements activities and provides a good social gathering point.

In fairness if you are like my wife sports seasons pass with blissful unawareness that anything significant has occurred. Or another friend bemoaned the "hole" in time created by the end of basketball and the waiting for football, obviously she has not seen the light of the solstice nor experienced the rebirth of life baseball ushers in (if baseball did not begin, would flowers continue to grow?) But I will acknowledge that for those immune to sports time, the world continues unabated and all it needs are regular solar seasons. For others, this time may seem like the long silence I am now ending.

Every nostalgic middle aged white male in the American universe is tempted to write an elegiac article about the start of baseball season. I vowed I would not, but I can't really help myself.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Duke versus Butler: A Harbinger or Aberration?

The NCAA tournament looks like an anomaly with two small private schools that graduate 90 percent of their student athletes in basketball. They are both coached by nontraditional coaches. Mike Krzyzewski arrives from West Point via the army. Brad Stevens arrives via DePauw and Eli Lilly pharmaceuticals. Both bring focused intensity and relentless commitment to teams built around role players, commitment and relentless defense. One has coached for 30 years while one looks twelve and was 3 when coach K started coaching. On top of it all, they played an incredible game, tight, taut, well played. Good hard thoughtful basketball, a really fine game especially compared to more than a few of the recent blowouts.

I'm not sure we'll see such a repeat, although I am sure Myles Brand would appreciate the reality of small schools (yes Duke is small with an undergraduate enrollment a little over 6,000) I truly doubt we'll see many 90 percent graduation rate finals, but what fascinates me is what I hope is a deeper trend in college basketball, sort of back to the future.

The college basketball scene is deeply infected and inflected by early moving to the NBA by players. The early movement makes it very difficult to educate the young student athletes in any serious way as students and the movement makes it hard to build a strong athletic system and program over time. I can't blame the young student athletes and don't, but the early exodus hurts the college game in many ways.

The worst problem exists with the "one and done" guys. Sponsored by the NBA rule that teams cannot draft 19 year olds, the rule is ostensibly progressive to encourage kids to stay in school. It really means NBA teams did not want the liabilities and problems of baby sitting 18 year olds as they acclimate and devolope in the NBA. The NBA development league is really neither development nor a  league, so the talented 18 year olds can go to Europe, spend the year working with a trainer or hang around college for a year on a college campus, get some coaching, travel alot, and get fame and visibility that increases you draft position. Going to hang out at college for a year is a real win win for the talented player and for the NBA. But for colleges it is fool's gold.

It makes a mockery of any pretense to being students. Coaches rationalize that just being on a college campus and hanging around a couple classes helps educate the student athletes This delusion is simply delusional. Most underprepared college student athletes enter prep programs during the summer and enter calibrated classes to build up their skills. The whole experience for the first year tends to be a cocoon, for good or bad, to acclimate young athlete to startling culture changes and academic demands that  are beyond anything they dreamed of. This cocoon covers  the first semester or quarter, by the second semester, many of the one and out kids are playing full time and barely attending class. It becomes unbelievably difficult to keep them motivated to attend class and stay eligible when they plan to work with trainers and do tryouts as soon as the NCAA season is over.

You could call it the Kentucky plan, bring in three one and done kids, let them run and speed ball and hope for a little defense. The talent can get you along ways--this year to the elite eight. But besides the educational debacle, it degrades the basketball. The Kentucky plan--bring them in, do a drive and dribble offense that does not really depend upon a true team concept and then watch four of them declare for the draft one week after the NCAA finals. The model is really tempting for fast turn-arounds or if you have a razzle dazzle coach who does not worry too much about recruiting rules or graduating students, Kentucky under Calipari qualifies on all counts and got what it paid for.

Too many one and done stars or too many two and out  players, makes it very difficult to develop a strong defense. It also makes creating complex and effective offenses impossible. Coaches simply cannot teach with the athletes using a four month and jackpot time horizon. Ohio State tried it; Kentucky will perfect it with Calipari's recruiting skills and dribble/drive shoot and run or whatever offense. But the approach has real limits for schooling and quality of basketball. The only time it really works for a quality game is when a one and done star enters into a well defined and trained web of juniors and seniors so can fit into and flow with an existing team and system.

West Virginia, Butler, Duke and Michigan State all represent a different model. No one and outs. Few if any sophomore exits. Many very talented juniors, seniors--some may play pro in NBA or abroad--but all play within strong systems and all accept the role and honor of playing complicated defense that depends upon a team commitment and knowledge of each other. Most of the players have roles that they accept and pursue with relentless effort. They play as teams with roles, team oriented defense and a trust and awareness of each other that comes from a common belief system built up over time.

It would be good if this team oriented upper class built teams become the norm and offset the star riddled one and out Kentucky approach. Duke actually suffered from a surfeit of stars and early moves to NBA and early NCAA exits. It learned. Last year's North Carolina team built on seniors and juniors and the juniors and seniors left, but academically and athletically, far better three years to grow as a person, student and player, then the mockery of one and out.

This approach is better for the quality of the student athletes' education and better for the quality of the game. It is at war with the quicker more glamorous approach that Kentucky now models. Let's hope coaches figure it out for both educating and winning.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pete Carril's Children

I loved watching him on the sidelines as much as I loved his teams. A constant motion of grimaces, winces, smiles, gestures and crossed arms to hold himself together as he willed his Princeton teams to 514 victories, 11 NCAA tournaments, an NIT championship (when it meant something) and 13 Ivy League titles. Pete Carril coached Princeton for 29 years and I had the privilege to watch his teams for four years as a grad student there.

I think of him as I watch dervishes and leapers and raw speed and talent of many of the NCAA teams in the tournament. I think of him when I watch the high octane coaches lionized and wooed, fine coaches but reflecting a dollar driven celebrity culture of modern NCAA March madness. Yet lurking throughout the tournament, you see certain systems channelling that thoroughbred talent into systems of ferocious defense and high post driven offenses of complex weaves, cuts, endless quick smart passing and kick outs for threes--many of them variations of Carril's once seemingly anachronistic "Princeton offense."

The offense developed by accident, a makeshift, brilliant amalgamation of cuts, weaves, center positions and talented but not great shooters. The talent pool drove it; facing what he called "heartbreak hotel" at his admissions office, Pete Carril needed an offense that talented, smart players could use to beat teams that often possessed a higher level of natural talent or basketball bona fides.

At Princeton, not many Bill Bradley's made it through the gauntlet of modern American AAU nurturing and directing and wooing and hustling modern basketball players.

The problem was how to score against teams that were bigger and faster; how to play defense against teams bigger and faster. Princeton needed an offense and style tailored to the limited pool of players that Carril could get through the grueling admissions process. In addition he needed an style that could succeed after Stanford and Duke cherry picked the minute pool of players with academic qualifications to get into Princeton and possessing the basketball skills.

Carril hates the term "Princeton offense;" he prefers to see his approach as an ad hoc extension of classic basketball principles. The offensive sets run through a high post player with weaving guards/wings moving constantly without the ball, often starting beyond the three point line. They weave, sometimes screen each other and cut looking for mismatches or steps with quick passes for back door plays or kick outs after a collapse on the pass. Then reset and move again. It's hallmark, the back door play, seemed so totally fifties. Purists loved it; alot of coaches hated it. It slowed the fast pace of modern game and forced teams to play tight and difficult defense. Interestingly enough it has become much more at home with today's game where a fair number of coaches now incorporate the brutal intense defense plus the careful and complex offense it requires.

Carril's system required teaching, alot of teaching. The players had to learn to play within themselves and within a complex but limited system. The system required constant court awarenss and the ability to see the court, know where everyone else was and react and pass well. It required a disciplined approach to shot selection and knowing the system. The most important enemy to this type of offense was the temptation to play outside the tempo and beyond the scale of talent and sets. The offense is not designed for one and out players or teams. 

Too many teams tempted the Princeton teams, and often coaches would recruit against it by telling players they would not live up to their potential in such a stifling system. Carril's offenses were caricatured as slow white guys stringing out the clock, the deeper truth was  search for very high probablity shots, Carril's teams shot over 50 percent. The offense could scale to talent and survive various shot clock reductions, unlike Dean Smith's notorious four court offense.

The offense runs more fluid with more variations and freedom linked to faster and bigger players, but the concept remains th same. Unselfish talented players committed to a team concept which leads to the pursuit of high quality shots off of constant motion linked to high post passing and back door options. John Thompson III, an old Princeton player and coach now at Georgetown boils it down, "I just think of guys playing together, sharing the ball. Talented, unselfish players."

Carril rejects the whole term "Princeton offense." The term and notoriety rose because the scheme stood out so starkly in a game enamored of dunk, run and speed. His approach seemed quaint, antiquated and wore an attempt to compensate for lack of talent. More than a few commentators snuck in covert racism seeing it as a smart white man's game compared to a more talented but undisciplined black game.

His own students disproved this. Today the offense run by, among others,  Bill Carmody at Northwestern, Joe Scott at Air Force, John Thompson III at Georgetown or Craig Robinson at Oregon State distill it to its essence, a philosophy and culture that suffuses the sets--teamwork, unselfishness, quick concise decision making that controls the tempo, creates high percentage shots and requires three point shooting as well as strong passing. Not bound by talent or race but philosophy and commitment. The Nets, Kings and others integrate variations into it

Carril's children, fellow coaches, students and ideas carry on, not as clones, but fellow students and fellow teachers expanding, refining and permuting his approach. In typical Carril fashion he jokes, “The measure of any teacher, provided he’s not an egomaniac, is to see anybody that he taught do better than he did.”                       He's right.