The road less traveled

I used to assume Fort Dodge’s streets were the worst in Iowa. Had to be. Potholes everywhere. Uneven and abused surfaces. Roads in desperate need of attention after obviously being neglected for years.

After doing a significant amount of traveling and visiting other communities, I began to see this wasn’t just a Fort Dodge issue, or even an Iowa issue. Though the level of concern and priorities varied, it was a problem nearly everywhere. I gained a sense of perspective and became more educated through these experiences, realizing we were far from alone.

This is the first analogy that came to mind when watching Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard publicly question the Big 12’s treatment of his Cyclones after Saturday’s football game at Oklahoma State. Pollard didn’t mince words, but at the same time, wouldn’t name names. At best, he was suggesting unfair treatment on a consistent basis. At worst, he was hinting around some sort of conspiracy theory. Pollard left his speech open to interpretation, but he got the main point across: that Iowa State was being targeted in some way, shape or form, and he’d seen enough.

I don’t necessarily blame Pollard for rallying his coaches, players and the rest of Cyclone Nation with an “us against the world” battle cry. Though there may have been a better time and place to speak up, I have to assume he was personally comfortable with both. Pollard’s track record suggests he knows both the effectiveness and consequence of his actions. He was going to be applauded by some and mocked by others – the essence of intentionally stirring up controversy.

Pollard needs to be careful in moving forward with this particular subject matter, though. If he wants to raise questions about the level of effectiveness and accountability of the officiating process as a whole, good for him. There is nothing wrong with expecting a stronger and fairer system without interference or bias.

By the same token, labeling the Cyclones a “victim” of calculated or premeditated treatment is very treacherous territory to navigate. Credibility and objectivity comes into question if Pollard wants to stick with the Big 12 boogeyman narrative. Spend a few minutes talking to fans of other programs about blown calls, poor officiating and whether or not they are valued by their respective conferences. Suddenly, Iowa State’s horror stories don’t sound all that unique.

Pollard is right in wanting to hold the Big 12’s collective feet to the fire. However, he must be aware of the fact that many fans, players, coaches and even athletic directors at institutions across the country feel the exact same way about their own programs – and rightfully so.

The natural tendency is to be so close to the situation that everything seems to be happening in a vacuum. It’s not. They aren’t being picked on, but rather, picked apart by a system that struggles to operate efficiently for a multitude of reasons.

It’s not about conspiracies. It’s about competency. There is a cavernous difference, and I think Pollard would be amazed by who joins him in the fight if he starts to voice his concerns on a macro level.

The stage has been set for legitimate discussion, even if it took an unorthodox rant to kick down the door. Pollard said what many have been thinking – not just Cyclones, but rather, sports fans in general. Maybe the reaction will open his eyes to the scope and magnitude of the problem.

Iowa State’s streets aren’t the only ones in need of repair.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net