15.Oct.2014 “Sayre’s Law” and Bob DeCarolis, Mike Riley, and the Media

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The origin of Sayre’s Law are up for debate, but the gist of it can be found here.

In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue.

Well let me ask you this: what on earth can be less important than whether a college football team wins or loses a game? Very few things if you think about it. Yet the intensity of such debates fuels this website, causes one man to call another a “retard”, “idiot”, etc, and even triggers murder threats on SEC/ESPN comment sections. Some fans even kill other fans. Google “fan argument death” if you don’t believe it.

Here is some more on the phenomena:

“ACADEMIC politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.” This observation is routinely attributed to former Harvard professor Henry Kissinger. Well before Kissinger got credit for that thought in the mid-1970s, however, Harvard political scientist Richard Neustadt told a reporter, “Academic politics is much more vicious than real politics. We think it’s because the stakes are so small.” Others believe this quip originated with political scientist Wallace Sayre, Neustadt’s onetime colleague at Columbia University. A 1973 book gave as “Sayre’s Law,” “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue—that is why academic politics are so bitter.” Sayre’s colleague and coauthor Herbert Kaufman said his usual wording was “The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low.” In his 1979 book Peter’s People, Laurence Peter wrote, “Competition in academia is so vicious because the stakes are so small.” He called this “Peter’s Theory of Entrepreneurial Aggressiveness in Higher Education.” Variations on that thought have also been attributed to scientist-author C. P. Snow, professor-politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and politician Jesse Unruh (among others). According to the onetime editor of Woodrow Wilson’s papers, however, long before any of them strode the academic-political scene, Wilson observed often that the intensity of academic squabbles he witnessed while president of Princeton University was a function of the “triviality” of the issues being considered.

Walk around any campus and you find a bunch of know-it-all professors who are wildly insecure, having to “publish or die”, hoping to write the next great paper or discover the next breakthrough. Never feeling they get recognition for their “genius”…

Since the athletic department is an extension of the overall mood of a university, I think the mentality leaks over, and we’re left with an AD who makes comments like, “I guess you’re a genius now” [paraphrasing here, I can’t find the quote] after Mike Riley’s on the hot seat and wins a game. There is a lot of contempt in that statement, and it’s aimed directly toward the dissenting fan. This would be like one professor taking jabs at another or sabotaging his experiment, in the academic scenario above. There is a disproportionately large fight over the unimportant argument of (a) winning more football games and (b) who is right and who is wrong.

This spills over into Mike Riley and the media as well. The latter trying to protect the establishment and their own jobs due to the fierce competition over peanuts. These people are not curing cancer or writing “The Republic”…they’re writing about a football game in Corvallis.

To take this one step further, this is part of the reason I don’t donate to OSU. While it’s unspoken, there is a massive contempt between the establishment and the average fan. Unless that fan blindly follows, of course. Dissent is censored rather than encouraged (OSU even went so far to block my Twitter account), small donations are not welcome (I had to write Bob D and explain there was no way to donate $20), receive mail asking for money but never receive mail thanking for a donation, an email detailing steps for improvement rather than just levying criticism completely ignored, etc. Then the comments by the AD, the disdain in the media (i.e. Mamma Machado, et al), etc. All of these people are bottom feeders competing over a small portion of nothingness, and that’s why we see the stubbornness to maintain the status quo and the disdain for anyone who threatens it. Sayre’s Law in action.

 

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  • ObjCritic says:
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    Ironic that so many at OSU discourage and/or ignore critical thinking and commentary.

  • bendbeaver bendbeaver says:
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    Meh, you’re just describing professional dynamics that happen in all types of areas and institutions/corporations.

    Plus, the law suggests that there’s no high emotions in high stakes issues. Debunked.

    When’s kick-off and what’s everyone drinking?

    • angry angry says:
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      Point proven. The worthlessness of this debate has caused you to essentially call me an idiot, only more politely.

  • rsteve503 rsteve503 says:
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    Angry — That “law” is just a cute phrase.

    As to disputes in areas that most might regard as of trivial importance, the importance is in the eye of the beholder. I suggest most people want to be at the head of something…and when that postion is perceived as threatened and they react with apparently excess emotion, its only outsiders to their sphere of control who call it trivial.

    In WW2 Germany disputed with Russia and millions of lives were lost. … seems to me that is a pretty intense feeling involved. In a college dispute lives are generall not lost…

    Bend — I am thinking Jack Daniels, just to be ready for the worst….

    • angry angry says:
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      Oh I know it’s just a cute phrase and not a law.

      It isn’t the most interesting topic, but I like trying to understand Bob D’s pea brain along with the media that protects Riley. There’s some of this going on with all of them….

  • mckalk says:
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    We need diversions such as overly dramatizing athletic events to keep us sane in an insane world.

  • Hellobeavers says:
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    You bring up a great point in that fans are so emotionally invested in something that really means nothing to their personal well being. I actually do struggle with this – after a loss I have to convince myself that I don’t really care, which I really shouldn’t. I’m a 31 year old man who cares about how a bunch of unpaid 18-22 year olds perform in a game. That’s intellectually ridiculous.

    I recognize this and I also think that’s part of the reason why I’m not on the fire Mike Riley bandwagon. He’s doing fine – he’s not in line to make a run at the national championship but to me that doesn’t really matter. In many ways I find that more appealing than selling your soul like Oregon has to pursue something so meaningless.

    Interesting post.

    • whiskey soaked napkins whiskey soaked napkins says:
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      so you’re saying you are ok with never seeing the beavs in the Rose Bowl game in your lifetime. Got it now. Thanks

      • hellobeavers says:
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        Not sure how you arrived at that conclusion. I would love to see Oregon State in the Rose Bowl. We have been close a few times over the past decade. But I would not support firing a coach who keeps Oregon State relevant most years.

        I wouldn’t want to begin a string of hire and fire chasing a championship that may never materialize and is just as likely to backfire.

        Say you fire Coach Riley and bring in a new guy. That new guy is probably going to want twice as much money, a multi year contract with a buyout. What if he doesn’t work out? What if he puts together an avg of 6 wins.. then you fire that guy, and bring in a new guy who asks the same.

        Sounds costly and time consuming in that you probably have a few down years to account for a lost recruiting season and a change in scheme.

        Why is it worth that? It’s a big gamble. And it is meaningless.

        • whiskey soaked napkins whiskey soaked napkins says:
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          Relevant? Beavs? Not sure how you came to that conclusion

  • swamp ass beav says:
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    Down here in the South we call it Sear’s law, and it says if a lawnmower is on sale than ya buy it. git ‘r done.

  • Jack says:
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    Is tribalism unimportant?

    Or is it an important coping mechanism?

    There is something to be said for the tool in terms of keeping the masses sated. Religion, sports and politics keep people talking and not acting. For most they’re a healthy outlet taken in context. For some they are not.

    One could always take the 10/40 percent rule and run with it in any situation. Ten percent of any population will always do wrong. If that ten percent prospers by doing wrong, then another 40 percent will follow suit–some because they can, some because they would lose what they have if they didn’t.

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