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2014 MLB TV Schedule

With the Major League Baseball season about to begin in earnest, here are all the games currently scheduled on Fox, FS1, ESPN, and MLB Network, not counting last weekend’s games in Australia. Additional games will be added on ESPN on Sunday nights, Mondays, and Wednesdays; MLB Network on Sunday afternoons, Saturdays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and select daytimes; and TBS on Sunday afternoons later in the season as the season progresses, plus Fox and FS1 the last two Saturdays of the season. Alternate games will be shown in local markets of MLBN games. All times Eastern.

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2014 March Madness TV Schedule

Here is the schedule for all 67 games of the NCAA Tournament on CBS, TBS, TNT, and truTV. All times Eastern.

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Is Aereo Legal? Should It Be?

(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and I could very easily be talking out of my ass here. Take everything you read here with a grain of salt.)

The Supreme Court is set to decide, at least in part, the fate of Aereo; plaintiffs’ amicus briefs were due Monday, Aereo will present its opening argument by March 26 with amicus briefs in their favor due by April 2, and oral arguments will begin on my birthday, April 22. For those not familiar with it, Aereo is the service that has set up tons of tiny antennas and rents each one out to each of its customers. Customers can view free, over-the-air TV from their personal antenna over the Internet on whatever Internet-connected device they wish, and record said over-the-air TV on Aereo’s cloud DVR. Aereo claims that it is merely helping people access the free, over-the-air TV they’re entitled to, but if you think the foregoing description sounds like an unnecessary technological kludge, you’d be right. Broadcasters have been suing Aereo in any court they can, convinced that Aereo is getting away with not having to pay retransmission-consent fees cable operators are subject to, and fearful that cable operators might decide to do the same thing to get away from retransmission consent fees themselves.

That this is the issue is important, because the issue being presented to the Supreme Court is the notion that Aereo is engaging in a “public performance” in violation of copyright law. And as kludgey as the foregoing description is, it would be ridiculous to argue that it is based on it; Aereo isn’t engaging in any sort of “public performance” beyond what broadcasters are already doing with their free over-the-air signals, and any notion that what people do with their personal DVR service constitutes any sort of “public performance” is ludicrous, not to mention contradictory to past court decisions. In fact, it’s been argued that a decision against Aereo on this count could set a dangerous precedent that could preclude other technologies such as Slingbox.

Let’s be clear here. Aereo is clearly trying to take advantage of a loophole in the retransmission consent (not copyright) rules, and if it keeps winning in the courts Congress is going to have to step in, if only because it could render the retransmission consent regime unenforceable. Given that Congress is likely to close the loophole on which Aereo rests anyway, the Supreme Court doesn’t need to step in in order to kill Aereo. As such, it should avoid a decision that results in any sort of unintended consequences just to kill Aereo. The Supreme Court could rule on whether or not the loophole Aereo claims to have found exists, but it’s not its place to legislate it out of existence.

Broadcasters have argued that an earlier court decision in favor of Cablevision’s cloud DVR service doesn’t apply here, because Cablevision paid for the copyrighted content. But what about someone with an over-the-air antenna hooked up to a Slingbox? What has that person done to “pay for the copyrighted content”? Nothing, at least not to the broadcasters. Yet it’s obvious that such a situation is fully legal and within the intent of the law: Congress has mandated that television signals broadcast over-the-air be available free for anyone with an antenna to pick up, and the Betamax decision established the legality of recording content for personal use.

To close the loophole on which Aereo rests, Congress would need to figure out what differentiates the above situation from what Aereo is doing. One way it could do so is by noting that Aereo is charging for access to free over-the-air TV. In other words, Aereo is making money off of broadcasters’ free over-the-air signals, and so is bound to kick some money back to them. If Aereo were really interested in just helping people access the free over-the-air TV they’re entitled to from their own personal antenna, they wouldn’t be charging rent for access to that antenna (which implies that Aereo, not the consumer, actually “owns” that antenna). But that has nothing to do with copyright, and if that’s not what retransmission-consent law says already, that’s not the place for the Supreme Court (or any court) to decide that it does.

2014 FIFA World Cup TV Schedule

With 100 days remaining until the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, here is the complete schedule of games on the ESPN family of networks. All times Eastern.

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2014 NASCAR TV Schedule

On the eve of the Daytona 500, here is the TV schedule for every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race this season. The Daytona 500 is in bold, race names in italics are Chase races, and networks in bold are cable. All times Eastern.


Countdown Time Net
NASCAR: Daytona 500 2014-2-23 13:00:00 GMT-05:00 2/23 1:00 PM FOX
NASCAR: The Profit on CNBC 500 2014-3-2 15:00:00 GMT-05:00 3/2 3:00 PM FOX
NASCAR: Kobalt 400 2014-3-9 15:00:00 GMT-04:00 3/9 3:00 PM FOX
NASCAR: Food City 500 2014-3-16 13:00:00 GMT-04:00 3/16 1:00 PM FOX
NASCAR: Auto Club 400 2014-3-23 15:00:00 GMT-04:00 3/23 3:00 PM FOX
NASCAR: STP 500 2014-3-30 13:00:00 GMT-04:00 3/30 1:00 PM FOX
NASCAR: Duck Commander 500 2014-4-6 15:00:00 GMT-04:00 4/6 3:00 PM FOX
NASCAR: Bojangles’ Southern 500 2014-4-12 18:30:00 GMT-04:00 4/12 6:30 PM FOX
NASCAR: Toyota Owners 400 2014-4-26 19:00:00 GMT-04:00 4/26 7:00 PM FOX
NASCAR: Aaron’s 499 2014-5-4 13:00:00 GMT-04:00 5/4 1:00 PM FOX
NASCAR: Name TBD (Kansas Motor Speedway) 2014-5-10 19:00:00 GMT-04:00 5/10 7:00 PM FOX
NASCAR: Sprint Showdown 2014-5-16 19:00:00 GMT-04:00 5/16 7:00 PM FS1
NASCAR: Sprint All-Star Race 2014-5-17 21:00:00 GMT-04:00 5/17 9:00 PM FS1
NASCAR: Coca-Cola 600 2014-5-25 18:00:00 GMT-04:00 5/25 6:00 PM FOX
NASCAR: Name TBD (Dover International Speedway) 2014-6-1 13:00:00 GMT-04:00 6/1 1:00 PM FOX
NASCAR: Pocono 400 2014-6-8 13:00:00 GMT-04:00 6/8 1:00 PM TNT
NASCAR: Quicken Loans 400 2014-6-15 13:00:00 GMT-04:00 6/15 1:00 PM TNT
NASCAR: Toyota Save Mart 350 2014-6-22 15:00:00 GMT-04:00 6/22 3:00 PM TNT
NASCAR: Quaker State 400 2014-6-28 19:30:00 GMT-04:00 6/28 7:30 PM TNT
NASCAR: Coke Zero 400 2014-7-5 19:30:00 GMT-04:00 7/5 7:30 PM TNT
NASCAR: Camping World RV Sales 301 2014-7-13 13:00:00 GMT-04:00 7/13 1:00 PM TNT
NASCAR: Brickyard 400 2014-7-27 13:00:00 GMT-04:00 7/27 1:00 PM ESPN
NASCAR: GoBowling.com 400 2014-8-3 13:00:00 GMT-04:00 8/3 1:00 PM ESPN
NASCAR: Cheez-It 355 at the Glen 2014-8-10 13:00:00 GMT-04:00 8/10 1:00 PM ESPN
NASCAR: Pure Michigan 400 2014-8-17 13:00:00 GMT-04:00 8/17 1:00 PM ESPN
NASCAR: Irwin Tools Night Race 2014-8-23 19:30:00 GMT-04:00 8/23 7:30 PM ABC
NASCAR: Name TBD (Atlanta Motor Speedway) 2014-8-31 19:30:00 GMT-04:00 8/31 7:30 PM ESPN
NASCAR: Federated Auto Parts 400 2014-9-6 19:30:00 GMT-04:00 9/6 7:30 PM ABC
NASCAR: Name TBD (Chicagoland Speedway) 2014-9-14 14:00:00 GMT-04:00 9/14 2:00 PM ESPN
NASCAR: Osram Sylvania 300 2014-9-21 14:00:00 GMT-04:00 9/21 2:00 PM ESPN
NASCAR: AAA 400 2014-9-28 14:00:00 GMT-04:00 9/28 2:00 PM ESPN
NASCAR: Hollywood Casino 400 2014-10-5 14:00:00 GMT-04:00 10/5 2:00 PM ESPN
NASCAR: Bank of America 500 2014-10-11 19:30:00 GMT-04:00 10/11 7:30 PM ABC
NASCAR: Geico 500 2014-10-19 14:00:00 GMT-04:00 10/19 2:00 PM ESPN
NASCAR: Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 2014-10-26 13:30:00 GMT-04:00 10/26 1:30 PM ESPN
NASCAR: AAA Texas 500 2014-11-2 15:00:00 GMT-05:00 11/2 3:00 PM ESPN
NASCAR: Quicken Loans 500 2014-11-9 15:00:00 GMT-05:00 11/9 3:00 PM ESPN
NASCAR: Ford EcoBoost 400 2014-11-16 15:00:00 GMT-05:00 11/16 3:00 PM ESPN

What does the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger mean for you?

It certainly doesn’t sound good when the two largest cable operators, substantially bigger than any of their non-satellite rivals (a year ago TWC had 12.2 million subscribers; even counting telco companies Verizon had only 4.7 million), announce they’re going to merge. As part of the deal, Comcast announced it would sell off systems representing 3 million subscribers to other parties, getting to 30 million and under a former 30% cap that had been thrown out by the courts. Were it not for that, the combined Comcast-Time Warner monolith would have had control over fully a third of the market, over seven times that of the next largest cable company, and nearly as big as DirecTV and Dish Network combined. But what would that actually mean?

Cable operators are natural monopolies; with the exception of a few “overbuilders” (none of which have more than a million subscribers), in most places you only have the choice of one cable operator if you don’t want to get a dish or Verizon or AT&T aren’t available. There’s basically nowhere where Comcast and Time Warner Cable were in direct competition with one another. The fear of a Comcast-TWC merger, it seems, is that such a behemoth could basically set up shop wherever it wanted and keep other cable operators from growing, but even then it’s hard to see how realistic that is. (Or maybe that Comcast could afford to rest on its laurels in terms of service, making it even more Comcrap.) Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal had the potential to be far more detrimental to the consumer in this light.

The image that comes to mind when it comes to horizontal integration on this scale is the former AT&T telephone monopoly, but even that was not broken up so much because of its overall reach but because of its vertical integration with AT&T’s business selling telephones and using its control of the phone network to undercut rival phone sellers. Perhaps the analogous fear is that Comcast will use its broad reach to show preferential treatment to NBCUniversal networks, crippling rival programmers by denying them access to 30% of the country or subjecting them to onerous conditions to get there, but it’s not clear that’s actually possible, certainly not as cable providers increasingly become Internet providers first and foremost – especially given the conditions Comcast agreed to as part of the NBCU deal, including abiding by net neutrality even after the courts threw the FCC rules out last month. If anything a larger Comcast (which, if it continues negotiating for Bright House Networks as TWC had, will be negotiating on behalf of 32 million subscribers) might actually lead to positive outcomes for consumers in the long term, standing up to increasing rights fees asked for by other programmers, especially ESPN – though of course Comcast’s own stake in content production might still give them an edge that results in worse outcomes for rival content providers and consumers. (Time will tell if the new Comcast’s approach to sports networks will be more like that of Comcast – which has largely avoided rocking the boat with anyone en route to a portfolio it proclaims as “your home for the most live sports”, legal wrangling with Tennis Channel excepted – or Time Warner Cable, with its high-profile showdowns with the likes of NFL Network, MSG, Viacom, and broadcast networks like CBS and Fox.)

Of course, where those fears might be well founded is in how much leeway Comcast has had even under net neutrality rules, including engaging in its own carriage disputes with bandwidth providers, throttling traffic on video sites, and imposing broadband data caps. A monolithic Comcast/TWC union could still conceivably, without restrictions imposed by Congress or the FCC or agreed to voluntarily by Comcast, create winners and losers in the Internet marketplace, to the point of being able to throttle cord-cutting for a substantial number of Americans. That underscores the importance of allowing as much video as possible to be transmitted over the air where it can lie outside of Comcast’s reach.

Making sense of the Thursday Night Football deal

After over two years of speculation, the NFL has finally sold half of its Thursday Night Football slate… in a way no one could have anticipated.

As the NFL started ramping up the bidding process for the new package over the past month, some of the details that started coming out were head-scratching. The NFL expressed its preference to put the games on broadcast, not cable, which eventually grew to the point of basically insisting on it. The NFL also expressed its desire to simulcast the games on NFL Network.

Neither of these made any sense to me. The whole point of selling the games, I would have thought, was to get networks like NBCSN or FS1 to pony up the subscriber-fee-backed dough to take on programming that could boost those subscriber fees to the moon, to say nothing of ESPN protecting its own turf or Turner propping up TruTV or giving a boost to TNT. Broadcast networks have started catching up to cable with their retransmission consent fees, but the possibility of cord-cutting, or technologies like Aereo, could always be lurking in the background, and their owners continue to put their emphasis on cable wherever possible; the first twelve years of the college football playoff, after all, will still be on ESPN. Certainly the big four broadcast networks would fall over themselves to get the package, though it’s still the bank of crappy games NFLN has had for the past two seasons, but they wouldn’t pay nearly as much as cable networks would. And what did the NFL expect to gain by simulcasting games on NFL Network? Did they really think Time Warner Cable and Cablevision were so stupid they would treat NFLN as though it still had a full-season schedule despite the fact they could get 6-8 of its games anyway on a broadcast network? The NFL seemed to want it both ways.

I wonder if the key to the NFL’s thinking was the fact that this was a one-year deal (although the eventual deal also contains an option for a second year). I wonder if the NFL was floating a trial balloon to see how much money the Thursday package was worth, while also seeing what the reaction of cable companies might be to NFLN losing a bunch of games without actually having NFLN suffer too much – perhaps not wanting to lose people used to turning on NFLN on Thursday nights. The NFL might also want to see how much of TNF’s ratings, which are substantially behind those of the NFL’s other packages, are because of NFLN’s limited distribution or the crappy bank of games, while trying to build an audience for the games on the broadest distribution platform available and get more people used to watching the NFL on Thursday night. Perhaps they floated out feelers to Comcast, Fox, Turner, and ESPN and didn’t like the potential bids they got, so they decided on a different approach that could boost the value of the package and help them determine what balance of rights fees to boosting NFLN to strike. Depending on what the ratings are on CBS and NFL Network for each half of the package, as well as what the reaction of cable companies will be, the NFL may decide to sign a longer-term deal with a cable network, or keep more games on NFL Network again, or something else entirely.

But I can’t help but wonder if this marks a turning point in the bigger picture. The last few years have seen more and more events move from broadcast to cable and the accompanying explosion of the sports TV wars. Now the kingpin of American sports has seemingly moved in the opposite direction, and put a package on broadcast that might otherwise have seemed destined for cable. It may be a small step, but I hold out hope that when we look back, it marks the point the tide started to turn in broadcast’s favor – though the NBA could end up having a bigger impact on that later this year.

(I am surprised at CBS’ win, not because of their strong Thursday primetime lineup, but because of the same reason I didn’t see FS1 winning the package: it was just too awkward for CBS to take on a conference-agnostic package alongside having all the non-primetime AFC games. I thought NBC was the favorite, more because of synergy with their Kickoff and Thanksgiving night games than because of their weak Thursday primetime lineup, with ABC being second favorite by default.)

The Studio Show Scorecard for Week of December 16-22

PT Rnk

MM Rnk

TD Rnk

Nov Distr.
(000)
PT Vwr
(000)
LW/LY TD Vwr
(000)
TD HH TD Vwr
LW/LY
MM Vwr
(000)
MM HH

1

=

1

=

1

=

97370

3060

-12%

1161

0.8

-2%

624

0.5

=

=

84%

3060

-14%

1161

-3%

-10%

624

-5%

2

+1

2

=

2

+1

97407

656

+70%

307

0.2

+26%

249

0.2

=

=

84%

656

+32%

307

+19%

+5%

249

+9%

3

-1

3

=

3

-1

72066

206

-84%

135

0.1

-61%

115

0.1

+1

=

62%

278

+17%

182

-55%

-11%

155

-15%

5

+2

6

+4

4

+3

74882

157

+17%

85

0.1

+34%

46

0.0

=

+2

65%

204

+1%

111

+51%

+31%

60

+31%

4

+1

7

=

5

-1

78139

187

+11%

76

0.0

-8%

45

0.0

+5

+3

67%

233

+217%

95

-1%

+81%

56

+2%

6

-2

5

+2

6

-1

59078

153

-27%

68

0.0

-6%

49

0.0

-3

-1

51%

252

-29%

112

-7%

-7%

81

+11%

8

=

4

+2

7

+2

74685

106

-10%

62

0.0

+6%

57

0.1

=

=

64%

138

+22%

81

+17%

+13%

74

+24%

9

=

8

-4

8

=

81751

104

+17%

53

0.0

-13%

43

0.0

-2

+1

71%

124

+13%

64

-18%

+37%

51

-17%

7

-1

9

=

9

-3

88556

144

-7%

52

0.0

-26%

37

0.0

-1

-5

76%

158

+14%

57

-43%

-33%

41

+3%

10

=

10

-5

10

=

70036

53

-26%

36

0.0

-31%

33

0.0

+1

=

60%

74

+56%

50

-62%

+30%

46

-31%

I’ve added a new metric of my own devising to the table above, which I call the median minute, and represents a crude attempt at measuring the viewership level at which half the minutes of the week are above that point and half below. I think this better represents the top-to-bottom health of a network, especially its studio shows, compared to the primetime and total day metrics that can be unduly influenced by live events. Generally, you would expect that, while the primetime viewership is usually higher than the total day viewership, the median minute is the reverse (and more reliably so), and a network that ranks higher in primetime than in total day will rank lower in median minute than total day and vice versa. Because I’m calculating median minute entirely on my own, comparisons to a year ago will not be available at first.

Also, when I’m taking the average of a repeated studio show and the result comes out to something with a .5 at the end, I’m going to mark it by including a “½” in the recorded number, rather than blindly rounding up as normal rounding rules would suggest, because it’s impossible for me to know what side of the line the average would actually be on. Finally, because a substantial number of (especially ESPN) studio shows took the holidays off, I may skip the next two weeks in order to catch up.

All numbers are in thousands of viewers and are from Son of the Bronx. Read More »

2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Watch – The Top 50 Active Resumes

Surefire first-ballot players:

  1. QB Peyton Manning
  2. QB Tom Brady

These two stand far and away on top of the pack.

Borderline first-ballot players:

  1. TE Tony Gonzalez
  2. S Ed Reed
  3. CB Champ Bailey
  4. QB Drew Brees
  5. DT Kevin Williams

Tony Gonzalez, who just completed his last season, is by most standards, the greatest tight end of all time. Will that be enough to get him into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot?

The problem is not merely that no tight end has done so before, the problem is that pretty much every tight end had to wait multiple years to get in. Shannon Sharpe was snubbed twice before finally being inducted. John Mackey placed about three spots ahead of Gonzalez when the NFL Network did their “Top 100 Greatest Players” some years ago, after Sharpe’s first snub but before he got in, but didn’t get into the Hall of Fame until twenty years after he retired, when his eligibility was close to up. Gonzalez has likely passed Mackey in the intervening time, and I doubt Gonzalez will have to wait any later than the second ballot, but will the voters be willing to take that big a leap?

On the other hand, Sharpe’s first snub attracted considerable outrage in several corners, suggesting there’s considerable support for the notion of voting a tight-end in first ballot, support that would be even stronger for Gonzalez. For the Hall of Fame voters to continue their past position on tight ends ignores the nature of the position in today’s NFL, where it has basically become a variant of the wide receiver position (see: the ongoing controversy over what position Jimmy Graham would be franchised under). If any tight end merited the honor represented by first-ballot Hall of Fame status, it would likely be Gonzalez. I would be very surprised, maybe even shocked, if Gonzalez didn’t go in first ballot. But I can’t say it’ll happen with absolute certainty. We’re talking about unprecedented territory here, both with the player and the circumstance we’re ascribing to him.

Surefire Hall of Famers:

  1. TE Antonio Gates
  2. S Troy Polamalu
  3. CB Charles Woodson
  4. TE Jason Witten
  5. DE Julius Peppers
  6. DE Dwight Freeney
  7. LB DeMarcus Ware
  8. RB Adrian Peterson
  9. WR Andre Johnson

I was torn on whether or not to keep Richard Seymour on the list; rumors swirled around him potentially being sought out by teams as late as October, but he’d also indicated he was fine with retiring if he wasn’t picked up at any point in the season. My thinking is that Seymour’s career is almost certainly over, but the main thing that convinced me to remove his name from the list was to remove some awkwardness on the Players to Watch list.

Borderline Hall of Famers:

  1. WR Larry Fitzgerald
  2. WR Steve Smith
  3. WR Wes Welker
  4. DE Jared Allen
  5. WR Calvin Johnson
  6. QB Aaron Rodgers
  7. WR Reggie Wayne
  8. LB Patrick Willis
  9. OT Joe Thomas
  10. RB Jamaal Charles
  11. DE Haloti Ngata
  12. DE John Abraham
  13. CB Darrelle Revis
  14. RB LeSean McCoy
  15. QB Eli Manning
  16. QB Michael Vick
  17. P Shane Lechler
  18. WR Brandon Marshall
  19. RB Arian Foster
  20. QB Ben Roethlisberger
  21. QB Philip Rivers
  22. FB Vonta Leach
  23. KR Devin Hester
  24. K Adam Vinatieri
  25. RB Maurice Jones-Drew

You may be wondering why Calvin Johnson and Aaron Rodgers aren’t on the surefire list, when you probably see them as first-ballot guys. This is what’s so interesting about looking at players’ resumes if they retired right now. Johnson could threaten several of Jerry Rice’s records, but he’s only made the Pro Bowl (without getting in as an alternate) four of his seven years in the league – pretty good, and his less-good years can be chalked up to playing for bad Lions teams (much as with Fitzgerald and the Cardinals), but he might need one more good year to make the leap (certainly the surefire list could use him). Rodgers is especially interesting, and a possible cautionary tale for Johnson, as he had shockingly elevated himself in just a few years into one of the best QBs in the league and a surefire first-ballot HOFer if he kept it up… but one wonders if he’s starting to get overshadowed. He had a Pro-Bowl-caliber year in 2012, but a far cry from his masterful 2011, and missed a good chunk of 2013. Both could still end up being remembered as flashes-in-the-pan who were, for a brief time, two of the best at their positions in the entire league, Johnson inspiring people to mention his name in the same sentence with Rice, Rodgers a figure on par with Brady and Manning who picked up a ring along the way, and two of the great what-could-have-been stories. Would that be enough to get them into the Hall of Fame? Maybe… but it’d be a pretty long wait.

Even more interesting would be Vinatieri: very few non-quarterbacks have been propelled into the Hall of Fame on the strength of their Super Bowls… but Vinatieri could be one of them, despite being a kicker, a position with only one other representative in the Hall at all. And while every quarterback with multiple Super Bowl wins is in the Hall of Fame except Jim Plunkett, they all have substantially better resumes than Roethlisberger (who has only two Pro Bowl selections), which is why he’s so low.

Need work:

  • RB Chris Johnson
  • RB Marshawn Lynch
  • DT Justin Smith
  • S Adrian Wilson
  • OT Jahri Evans
  • LB Lance Briggs
  • CB Nnamdi Asomugha

When I put Maurice Jones-Drew on the “borderline” side of the list I agonized endlessly over what side of the line he fell on. Chris Johnson was on the “players to watch” list with an exclamation mark next to his name last year and I believe the year before as well. Now that it was time for him to graduate off that list, I realized he had the same or better resume than Jones-Drew. (Keeping Jones-Drew off the Players to Watch list may have played a part in my motivation.) But when I started this I swore that I would never bump anyone down a category once they made it to a given category (except for “needs work” players falling out of the top 50) or to move anyone up a category unless they actively improved their standing, and neither happened. On the other hand, I’m no longer sure how much Ray Rice ever deserved his exclamation mark last year…

Players to watch for the future (exclamation marks indicate players with resumes already strong enough to be among the top 50):

  • LB Clay Matthews (5th year)
  • DE Cameron Wake (5th year)
  • DT Ndamukong Suh (4th year)
  • C Maurkice Pouncey (4th year)
  • TE Jimmy Graham (4th year)
  • LB Navarro Bowman (4th year)
  • S Earl Thomas (4th year)!
  • QB Cam Newton (3rd year)
  • LB Von Miller (3rd year)
  • WR A.J. Green (3rd year)
  • DE J.J. Watt (3rd year)
  • LB Aldon Smith (3rd year)
  • CB Patrick Peterson (3rd year)!
  • CB Richard Sherman (3rd year)
  • QB Andrew Luck (2nd year)
  • QB Russell Wilson (2nd year)
  • WR Josh Gordon (2nd year)
  • LB Luke Kuechly (2nd year)
  • RB Eddie Lacy (Rookie)
  • WR Keenan Allen (Rookie)

No rookies wowed everyone the way they have the past few years, with the possible exception of Eddie Lacy.

Players to watch for the Class of 2018:

  • LB Ray Lewis
  • WR Randy Moss
  • DT Richard Seymour
  • LB Brian Urlacher
  • CB Ronde Barber
  • G Steve Hutchison

This is a loaded class even if Seymour’s career isn’t over. Lewis is a surefire first-ballot guy, and as explained last year that’ll provide cover for the voters to hold Urlacher back a year when he doesn’t really have a first-ballot resume anyway; Moss has a chance to join him, depending on how the voters feel about his extracurricular activities and the state of the WR backlog, but Seymour does not. Barber and Hutchison were the two names at the very back of the surefire list last year, so they may have lengthy waits.

I have plenty more I could say about Tarquin’s recent attempts to off Roy and their impact on Elan’s character development, but I never took advantage of any opportunities to do so.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized familial farewells.)

After nearly three hundred strips – after no previous book had lasted more than 188 in-comic strips, adding up to nearly a third of all OOTS comics – and nearly four and a half years – nearly half of OOTS’ entire existence – the fifth book of The Order of the Stick is finally winding its way to a close.

Over three years ago, when the book was only just over a year old, we were introduced to another in a long line of Rich’s fascinating, multi-layered, complex supporting characters. His name is Ian Starshine.

We knew who Ian was (and we certainly knew his daughter) for some time prior to his appearance in the cast. We knew it was him that got Haley in the thieving business, we knew his capture was what was motivating Haley and led to her joining the Order of the Stick, and we certainly ladled on the speculation that his captor was in fact his daughter’s potential future father-in-law. But everything we knew about him came in snippets and flashbacks from Haley. Now, we’ve seen him in the flesh, so to speak, and we’ve gotten his story.

Ian was in the midst of trying to overthrow Tarquin’s tyranny when he got the idea to get himself locked up to recruit other dissidents, only to find that those that could understand Tarquin’s modus operandi got killed pretty quickly, and that once locked up, he couldn’t escape for good. More interesting than Ian’s story, however, is his personality. Haley has been a mess of secrets from the start of the comic because Ian taught her never to trust anyone with anything, and while Haley has been slowly but surely opening up, at least to Elan, in Ian we have the picture of someone who went through absolutely none of Haley’s character development. And once Haley gets a glimpse of that picture, she realizes that for all that she wanted to be with him again, her father’s teachings nearly completely ruined her life.

When Ian’s brother-in-law Geoff finds Elan lurking about, everything Haley says to reassure her father only serves to make him more convinced that Tarquin planted him to serve as their downfall, to the extent that he actually refuses to leave with her, convinced she and Elan would just lead him into a trap. Even though Ian’s theory makes no sense given the family history of Elan and Tarquin, it serves to illuminate just how much character development Haley has gone through, because it’s exactly the sort of thing she might have once been worried about before finally getting together with him (and even then only under the most extreme duress).

But even as it illuminates Haley’s character development, it even more so illuminates Ian’s lack of same. It may not have been terribly surprising that Ian would be suspicious of the son of his captor, but what stands out in this sequence is how much it shows his general paranoia. When Haley tells Ian of how much she’s learned to open up to people, all he sees is weakness in his daughter, weakness that allowed the son of a despot to get into her heart. Both of them reflect on the death of his wife and her mother, who urged them in her dying words to “be better than this town. Than all of this.” But they came to completely different conclusions on what she meant: Ian feels the work he’s been doing against Tarquin has been a higher cause than “looting rich folk”, but Haley sees in her mother’s words something grander, a call to get away entirely from the world of trickery and deceit she was born into, and help do something far grander than Ian could even imagine.

But if it were strictly about paranoia for Ian, I don’t think he would have been quick to insult Tarquin out of the blue when they met face-to-face. I think an even more overriding principle for Ian lies in something he tells Haley during their conversation: “You can always trust in family, for good or for ill.” Thus, the flip side of Ian’s certainty that Elan must be a spy simply because Tarquin is his father is that he is so confident in the abilities and trustworthiness of his own family that he’s equally certain that Haley is the true leader of the Order of the Stick and Roy and Belkar were there to help rescue him all along.

But ultimately, that confidence may not only be misplaced, but may be his ultimate tragic downfall. Ian was originally recruited to the Western Continent to oppose Tarquin by his sister and her husband, and Geoff has been sitting in prison with him the whole time. It’s very possible that Geoff has in fact been working against Ian the whole time, tricking him into getting locked up and making sure he never escapes for good – especially when you consider the first hint we got regarding the circumstances of Ian’s capture, when Bozzok, the former boss of both Haley and Ian that both burned bridges with, let slip in passing that he arranged for Ian’s departure when he gave word to some “friends” on the Western Continent. The only thing sadder than it turning out that the one person he most needed to be paranoid of was the one person he never suspected would be if, instead of showing him that blood isn’t the sole determinant of one’s character, it only served to make him more paranoid, even of his own daughter, if he survived it.

These last two strips, though, have raised the possibility that, in some way, Ian has become more trusting while we weren’t looking – or at least that his real blind spot is simply his fanatical opposition to and desperate desire to overthrow Tarquin. Most obviously, when Ian asks his new boss, a former opponent of one of Tarquin’s secret allies who was betrayed after asking him for help, whether or not he can trust her, she replies, “You don’t, and you shouldn’t,” and Ian responds, “Just the way I like it. I’m in.” But what may be more telling is something in this strip Rich may not have even intended. Elan hands Ian his own plan for overthrowing Tarquin, and Ian is pleasantly surprised at its plausibility, affording himself the possibility that Elan might in fact be on the up and up after all – despite very little having changed regarding what Ian knows about Elan. The Ian of earlier in the book might well have decided that the plan’s very plausibility was a way to attempt to lure him into a trap. The only thing sadder than his betrayal by his own brother-in-law leaving Ian untrusting of literally anyone and everyone would be Ian misdiagnosing his betrayal by his own brother-in-law as his betrayal by his potential future son-in-law, reinforcing his misguided blind faith in family above all else rather than exposing it.

It may well be that in this, Ian is a rather fitting mirror image of Tarquin – knowing what we know of Elan and Tarquin, for Ian to find Elan’s plan plausible would probably imply at least some familiarity with the tropes of story Elan and Tarquin are (or, in Elan’s case, were) so devoted to. Tarquin is so desperate to be a villain going out in a blaze of glory at the hands of his own son he spends several strips trying to kill Roy in hopes of making Elan into the hero he so desperately wants him to be; Ian is so desperate to be a hero he’s willing to sacrifice his own principles to go along with anyone who claims to be out for the same goal he is, even if his ultimate goal may well be to usurp power away from them and take control of the resistance, even if in a rather Tarquin-like behind-the-scenes way. (In this, perhaps this isn’t so inconsistent with his prior portrayal; Geoff did, after all, marry into the “family” much like Elan might eventually do.) Either could prove to be their undoing; one would hope that, if Ian is ultimately responsible for Tarquin’s downfall, Tarquin could at least appreciate Ian’s credentials for the job.