Saturday, February 15, 2014

When Chatelain Tries To Analyze, Misperceptions Arise

Earlier this week, the UNO Red Army became the latest to take offense to Omaha World-Herald feature writer Dirk Chatelain.

Truth be told, Chatelain is an award winning sports writer. And rightly so; he's written some amazing feature articles about the people who play the games.  Take his features on the relationship between Ameer Abdullah and Ron Brown, UNO track star Sami Spenner (hey, NCAA: Let Sami Run!), and small town high school football. Great stuff.

But, as great as he is at writing stories about the people, he's a little less successful at analyzing the games themselves. Every so often, Chatelain breaks out a spreadsheet and tries to pretend to be Nate Silver, the statistical wizard who correctly predicted that Barack Obama would be re-elected in 2012. Unfortunately, his results turn out more like Mitt Romney's campaign team, who were convinced they were winning until the polls closed in California.

Most news organizations recognize the strengths of their talent and have them focus on what they do best.  ESPN doesn't send Jeremy Schaap to cover the Super Bowl, nor do they send Lee Corso to cover Missouri linebacker Michael Sam.

I'm reminded of his analysis from last year about recruiting within a 500 mile radius of Lincoln. I remember reading the article and asking at the time what it meant.  Frankly, nobody could really say, other than "Bo Pelini isn't doing it right."  So we looked at it the situation a little closer at CornNation, and found that, if anything, the 500 mile radius was a liability to Nebraska, as opposed to a missed opportunity.

I was reminded of this story recently with some updated information from Jeff Mason, who was working with 247 Sports, regarding recruits within 500 miles of Lincoln.

Pretty eyepopping numbers, but let's take the numbers even more general.  The CornNation team graphed the hometowns of each 1-A football scholarship recruit from the last dozen years, and the map is really, really stark.

Draw a line from Denver to Sioux Falls and then Minneapolis, and note the lack of players historically from those areas.  That is the Achilles heel of Nebraska and the 500 mile radius...there just aren't many players there.  Some would respond by saying that Nebraska should simply look south and east, but then other programs jump into competition.  As you get further and further away from Lincoln, the Huskers are then entering the sphere of influence for schools like Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

That, in a nutshell, tells the story about why Nebraska has to recruit differently. For unofficial visits, recruits have to pay their own way.  If they are within 500 miles, it can be a family trip via car.  When it gets longer, driving becomes less practical.  (And if you haven't noticed, airplane tickets are kind of expensive.)  So it shouldn't be a surprise that as more and more high school players commit after unofficial visits, Nebraska falls behind in the early stages of recruiting.

That's context that Chatelain glossed over in his story from last year.  It's not like this was an exception either; remember the whole "bench Taylor Martinez because Nebraska didn't have a backup quarterback in 2011" muddled mess?

So when I saw the Red Army take offense when Dirk forgot about UNO hockey in the discussion of local programs getting to the "Final Four" of their sport, I just have to shrug my head and say "consider the source."


jeff725 said...


That's the frustrating thing about Dirk; there are times when he is very good, but there are the times when he is very petty.

I'll bet you that's why he's still writing for the OWH instead of already working on a national gig like ESPN of Fox.

Husker Mike said...

Maybe Dirk wants to stay in Nebraska. Maybe he personally prefers doing these analysis pieces. But if he wants to grow and progress as a writer, he'd be well advised to stick to the feature stories that he excels.