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One Final Baylor QB Take: Why Loyalty and Fandom Merit Criticism; And Why This is Really a Philosophical Debate

It’s more philosophy than anything else

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Georgia vs Baylor Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The debate about Charlie Brewer’s status as Baylor’s quarterback has become less about whether Brewer gives Baylor the best chance to win, and is now philosophical.

Even the most pro-Brewer fans recognize he hasn’t played that well. They might ascribe more blame to the offensive line, or place more emphasis on the uncertainty about Gerry Bohanon or Jacob Zeno, but they know something is off. And even the most ardent “let a different QB play” folks have an abiding respect for what Brewer’s accomplished and feel some discomfort calling for a change.

As we’ve rehashed this argument and gone through multiple discussions, it’s apparent we’re not arguing so much about “Just how gone is Brewer’s arm?” Instead, we’re arguing from different philosophical perspectives. Recognizing those perspectives makes this easier to sort out.

Sports fandom and coverage is a difficult intersection of difficult topics. Fandom presents a host of questions. Can a fan ever criticize the decisions of a coach? Can they criticize a player or how they’re playing? Even if they can criticize, is calling for a benching a step too far for a fan?

Coverage presents an additional layer of difficulty. Everyone at ODB went to Baylor. We’re all fans of Baylor, and we want the sports teams to go undefeated. But we also cover the teams. Are we obligated to provide the most objective viewpoint of Baylor’s performance? Should our role as a site full of Baylor fans dictate that our coverage leans much stronger toward being pro-Baylor?

That’s a lot of questions, but it’s helpful to lay them out before turning to them.

The easiest way to think of fandom is as a two-sided operation. On one side, you’d have what I call “Status quo Baylor.” To that side, Baylor as it exists—with its representatives on the field—is Baylor. To criticize Charlie Brewer or call for a new QB is to criticize Baylor. Even if there’s some distinction between Brewer and Baylor, this side’s strongest adherents would posit you should be extremely reluctant to criticize the people that represent Baylor. Instead, you should support them, and the way to support them is to highlight what they do well and avoid criticism.

On the other side are the “Best option people.” This side believe their fandom mandates offering what they believe the best possible outcome would be for Baylor. That often will entail criticizing the status quo. So if Brewer is playing poorly, this side will say, “Play somebody else because Baylor’s more likely to win with someone else.” This side feels like fandom is not tied to Baylor as it exists, but their fandom dictates trying to make the strongest version of Baylor. They don’t feel as deep a passion about how Baylor exists, but rather they root for Baylor as it might become.

These labels, like all political labels leave something to be desired. A pro-choice person would quibble that they’re not anti-life as the pro-life moniker implies. They’d argue that abortion is necessary for the flourishing of the life of women. A pro-life person would quibble they’re not anti-choice; they just believe the choice to have an abortion is tantamount to murder, so the idea of a choice is a false construct. I’m not trying to take a position on abortion here, rather I’m explaining that even our most litigated issues can’t be encompassed by their descriptive methods. So if you feel like, “I’m on one side, but I’d criticize Baylor some too,” then that’s fine. Labels can’t capture the fullness of any position.

In practice, the two sides exist on a continuum. Few people exist on the most radical extremes. Take taxes. Someone on the political right might say, “The lower the taxes, the freer the people.” But they probably don’t believe the top marginal tax rate should be zero. The Wall Street Journal Editorial page might want a top tax rate of 25%, but they don’t believe taxes should disappear. In contrast, someone on the left might say, “The rich need to pay their fair share in taxes.” But The Washington Post’s editorial page would recognize a 95% top tax rate would hamper economic growth, and their view about a higher top marginal tax rate would reach some level where it no longer makes sense to keep taxing the rich more.

Turning back to Baylor, on the status quo side, many would hit a place where things could get so terrible with Brewer or any QB that they’d advocate for a new QB. Maybe they’d need to see Brewer throw 10 picks in three games, but nearly everyone has a level where they’d advocate for a change. On the best option side, many of those folks would express some degree of hesitancy to push for a new QB. If they believed Bohanon was slightly better, their fandom still leaves them with some respect for the principle that underlines the status quo side—a deference and appreciation for Baylor as it exists—that they wouldn’t immediately call for a QB change as quickly as they might if they were discussing Texas Tech football.

Let’s look at this with some examples too.

I categorize a range of views along this continuum. Views and positions aren’t fixed. If Brewer played better against TCU, then saying he shouldn’t be QB1 might move further to the left on the graph (this does not mean one side politically orients with the left or right; I could have made status quo the left on the line). And if he plays worse, then “Brewer shouldn’t be the QB” could move right on the graph.

The graph shows that there are some positions where even the most status quo person would feel uncomfortable with. Almost nobody defended Baylor’s punt from the Texas 30. That decision was so bad that even someone that feels the status quo is great wouldn’t support it.

Philosophy doesn’t encompass everything with these graphs though. Let’s turn back to the Iraq War. Back in 2003 someone could have opposed the Iraq War because they believe that all wars are murder. Someone could have also supported the Iraq War because they believe war is cool. But those positions didn’t encompass 99.9% of why someone supported or opposed the Iraq War. Most people in 2003 had a common philosophical agreement. They thought the United States should be the world’s most powerful country. They believed Saddam Hussein presented some threat, and they thought if he had weapons of mass destruction, it would be a problem. But there was a disagreement about how likely the U.S. could win the peace after overthrowing Hussein, and if Hussein had WMD’s, would he use them or give them to a terrorist organization? That’s a rambling way of saying that people can have shared philosophical interests and reach different conclusions.

With Brewer’s case, it’s possible to be on the far left end of “best option” and think, “Well, actually Brewer is the best option because I don’t think Bohanon or Zeno could run the offense behind this offensive line, and I believe the lack of practice explains all of Brewer’s woes; with one more week, he’s going to show he still has the arm. If I thought someone else was better, I’d loudly proclaim we need a different QB.” Someone on the right right of the “Status quo=Baylor” could think, “I almost never criticize anything associated with Baylor, but I truly think his arm has gotten so bad that we have to play a different QB. The status quo has reached a breaking point, and even though I’m not 100% sold on Bohanon or Brewer, I believe they’d give Baylor the best shot.”

After laying that all out, I come out strongly on the side of best option. My belief is that I should offer what I believe to be the truth about anything I opine on for Baylor. The best case against that view is that I’m extremely unlikely to change any Baylor decision, and that by offering a critical take, it just hurts morale. If my viewpoint fails to achieve its goal, and it only causes a negative externality—lower morale—then I shouldn’t have that framework.

The case for best option is still more persuasive to me. First, offering the best option ensures I’m offering the best coverage I can to people. I want people to read me and know they’re getting the best I have to offer. If I had a conflict about wanting to protect anyone, I wouldn’t be able to do that. Second, I think it makes praise more meaningful. If you tell a co-worker, this is the best work you’ve ever done, it wouldn’t take two weeks for the co-worker to think, “This means nothing.” Finally, the downsides are overrated. Criticism is necessary in all fields. The people I offer takes about can handle the criticism. I can also take it if someone responds to my view on one of these situations and says, “Your examples are confusing, your graph is trash and this could have been 800 fewer words.” I’ll take as much criticism as I give because ultimately, if you want to be the best, you should strive to take in all those views.

There’s not much more to offer in this QB debate because it’s now more philosophical. Some of this argument still revolves around the contours of “best option available.” But much of it is actually an argument about the proper role of fandom. I can respect a difference in philosophy, but those philosophical differences are really what we’re arguing about when we argue about whether Brewer is Baylor’s best option at QB.