"What (Michigan coaches) told me is that they're focusing on point guards right now, but if anything opens up, they'll definitely come back on and recruit me as hard as they were," said Towns
So... what? The last post was a dump of the various things I've heard/experienced that influence my opinion. There are some other things -- a varsity-jacket clad cadre of large men in my Astro 111 course, my Anthro 101 course, Scott Matzka (hockey player, good shorthanded) posting stuff to the EECS 380 usenet group -- but it's just more of the same.
This is the equation we've set up in all varsity sports to some degree or another:
Large Group of Academically Underqualified Persons +
40-hour-per-week year-round commitment +
Grad rates at or above the University average =
Solve for X, and you get the kind of stuff detailed recently by the Ann Arbor News.
I mean, duh. The only group of people dumb enough to believe you can take star athletes whose uninspiring high school GPAs are almost entirely fraudulent already, give them a full time job, and then get those star athletes to graduate without hijinks are dickwad Notre Dame fans driven mad by their program's 15 years of total irrelevancy. And, apparently, some but not all Penn State fans.
The Ann Arbor News knows this, of course, and knows that a similar examination of any program in the country would turn an equal or greater level of academic offense. So the editor puts on his I Are Serious Cat face and rumbles about "perception" and "reality" and how Michigan believes that it is better than everyone and isn't this troubling, isn't it? And we get sidebars about how poor Brent Petway couldn't get into the music school when he discovered its existence... two years into his time on campus. Thanks a million, AANews.
This was going to be a big long article about the place of the athlete in the modern university; in it I would link the piece I wrote last summer when Jim Harbaugh was shooting his mouth off about the general studies program and the like, but when I re-read it I realized I didn't have to or want to change it, so I'm going to bump it to the front page here in a few minutes.
The executive summary:
- Athletes work harder than just about anyone at a university.
- There is a giant sports entertainment industry in this country.
- There are many not so bright people at the U getting undergraduate degrees in deliberately unchallenging majors; the intent of research 1 universities is to shovel a ton of students through cheaply and use their tuition to build particle accelerators.
- We should stop pretending that something as hugely important to so many people as sports are can't be a valid field of study.
To this, I'd to add... This is the powerpoint summary of Michael Oher's life:
- Born in inner-city Memphis to a single mother with several other children by another father; will eventually be one of ten siblings all living under one roof.
- 0-7: lives with mother, a drug addict who is nice enough but provides zero in the way of guidance or support and disappears for ten days at a time when money is available.
- One day when he's 7: Social Services gets wise and comes to yank the kids into foster care. The boys run, but are eventually tracked down.
- 8-10: alternately lives in foster home run by ludicrously fat woman named Velma who keeps kids in line by sitting them and spends time on the streets when the Velma-home is too much for him. Momentarily hospitalized for psychological evaluation; escapes. During this period of time goes to school mostly because they have free food. Exists as a sort of child hobo.
- 10-15: reunites with mother in hopelessly dystopian, lawless inner-city Memphis project. Does not go to school, ever. Decides he would like to be Michael Jordan. Becomes freakin' enormous. Technically spends a year at high school, ish.
- 16: Driven to Briarcrest Christian Academy by local do-gooder "Big Tony" in the hopes that he and Big Tony's son can attend the school because they're athletes. Oher, at this point, is itinerant, sleeping on whatever floor or couch seems most accessible that night.
- 16-18: Virtually, then actually adopted by Sean Tuohy, a now-wealthy former Ole Miss point guard, given home to exist in. Expensively tutored nonstop for three straight years.
- College: "Dean's List" at Ole Miss, all SEC.
When Oher dipped his toe into the NFL draft waters this January he found he would be a late first round or second round pick and, thus, a millionaire. Envisioning Oher's life without academic fraud is left as an unpleasant exercise to the reader.
Who is served by academic ineligiblity and drop-out players? Not the school, not the player, and not the NFL. There must be some level of academic effort; most of these kids will not become pro players and will have to find jobs. Most of them also have little business being in college proper, which is not surprising since they were selected for other reasons.
College football has conspired with the NFL to become the sole feeder system for an immensely lucrative industry. College football itself makes millions from the efforts of undercompensated individuals who would otherwise never attend college. It therefore has many responsibilities to those individuals, who it has trapped in a hypocritical system. One of these responsibilities is to, within reason, ease their academic passage so that they can attempt to use their standout skill to make a living. Michigan is doing this, and though I described the Watson and Riley one-month, four credits B+ as a "scam," it's a upright scam. The whole system is a scam that declares by fiat that this incredibly taxing mental and physical effort is worthy of no credit while Astro 111 -- which, Ann Arbor News, I am delighted to report that I spent approximately one hour a week on outside of class -- is.
This is Theron Wilson now; I stumbled across his MySpace page and a few other things when I was trying to remember the details of his life.
I have no real idea how he's doing. He played overseas for a few years after the UPS stint. He's got a suit. He details a lot of failed business ventures and frustrations in the real estate market and appears to be attempting to enlist the reader in some sort of get-rich-online scheme of dubious value. He says he's in marketing, says he's got a college degree, says he's got a kid. I think he's doing ok.
Did college do him good? I kinda suspect he struggled through EMU with a lot of easy classes and maybe a smattering of academic fraud -- non qualifier, remember -- and got a degree of some sort. Was it helpful? Where would he be if the skids were not greased? At some point do you stop hanging on, and where do you go then?
Data. Data. Data. Data.
Data: This is a scam. There are a great number of things detailed in the Ann Arbor News article that are questionable and few that are anything more, but this is a scam:
Hagen set up independent study courses for two Michigan football players with just more than a month remaining in a semester. Rueben Riley and Gabe Watson dropped other classes and enrolled in an independent study course with Hagen on March 18, 2005.
Sucking a kid into an independent study with a month to go in the semester and then lobbing four B+ credits at Gabe Watson for writing a single twelve page paper that probably says "FEED ME SO HUNGRY WANT PORK CHOP" on at least six of those pages is something close to academic fraud. The university protests "this isn't Auburn" at one juncture in the article, but on the academic integrity continuum that extends from Vanderbilt on one end to Auburn on the other, that's a lot closer to Auburn.
Michigan is systematically funneling kids at risk of losing their eligibility into independent study courses of questionable content, and will in extreme cases fob some credits at players for four weeks of work in a 15 week semester. The Ann Arbor News establishes that.
Data: Mr. Bancroft, one of my history teachers in high school, was an odd bird, an elderly bald man with wild eyes and tattered ideals prone to grandiose pronouncements and strong opinions. A small but hopefully telling indicator: most people just called him "Bancroft," even his students. Though he was naturally drawn to athletes, when the Quiz Bowl team â€“ yrs truly a member, natch â€“ needed a damn fool to drive us to Washington DC and be our chaperon so we could go about .500, eke into the single-elimination rounds, and get crushed by that goddamn Virginia magnet school, he volunteered. He was a nice guy.
When you are in a van for ten hours you naturally get to talking about various topics, and the subject of Theron Wilson came up during various debates. I don't remember why. But I do remember what Mr. Bancroft said.
Theron was a black kid from Detroit that Bancroft somehow had stumbled across â€“ how was never explained â€“ and kinda sorta taken in for a couple years. Theron was six foot eight. He was also a prop 48, ineligible to play as a freshman. He was the center on the inexplicably great Eastern Michigan teams featuring Earl Boykins. When the Eagles beat Duke in 1996, he had five blocks. A few months later he was selected in the draft, but the wrong draft: Theron was the La Crosse Bobcats' third round selection in the 1996 CBA draft.
A year later, we drove to Washington DC to play the white and Asian kids of Thomas Jefferson, that damn Virginia magnet school, and Theron Smith was driving a UPS truck. "I don't know," said Bancroft. "He's just hanging on."
Data: Michael Oher, star of Michael Lewis' The Blind Side. For the purposes of our conversation, the heart of the book has to do with Michael Oher's schooling, or lack thereof. For a variety of tragic (and probably sadly common) reasons, Oher mostly attends school when he feels like taking advantage of the free lunches provided. From ten to fifteen, Oher lives a virtually feral existence in a little slice of Somalia mysteriously transported into downtown Memphis. He decides he will be Michael Jordan, and he does not go to school, ever. After a quasi-year at a downtown Memphis quasi-high school, Oher is taken out to Briarcrest Academy, a Christian school in the white section of Memphis by a guy named "Big Tony"; Briarcrest hems and haws and decides that the Christian thing to do is have an enormous black guy play on the basketball team.
Oher eventually falls in with a Briarcrest supporter named Sean Tuohy, a former Ole Miss point guard turned rich white guy. The Tuohy family ends up adopting him, and Oher ends up commiting to Ole Miss February of his senior year of high school. Despite three years of nonstop private tutoring, Oher needs a telescope to see the grade point and test score combination the NCAA requires.
At this point, Tuohy spends a lot of money and time tracking down ways to fraud â€“ there's really no other way to put, it â€“ Michael Oher into Ole Miss, striking upon two separate gold mines: a friendly psychiatric clinic that gets Oher declared "learning disabled" mostly because he has an average IQ but hasn't learned anything yet, which allows Oher unlimited, guided, untimed attempts at standardized tests, and a series of "courses" BYU should be ashamed they offer: ten-day remote equivalency courses during which he has to read about famous personages and answer five questions about them. Each set of five questions cleared allows Oher to replace a semester of F with one of A.
Oher qualifies, and starts his freshman year at Ole Miss.
Michael Oher is a very large learning disabled man with approximately three years of actual schooling and a fraudulent academic transcript and Michael Lewis writes this about him in his afterword:
IN THE SEASON AFTER this book's publication Michael Oher started every game as Ole Miss's left tackle. The Ole miss football team was so consistently inept it was hard to believe anyone on it could be any good, but Michael's play landed him on the All-SEC second team, while his grade point average (3.75) landed him, for a semester, on the University of Mississippi Dean's list. (He was honored at halftime during one Ole Miss basketball game for his schoolwork.
#$*#! I didn't carry a 3.75. I knew I should have spent my middle school years roving around inner city projects trying not to get shot.
Data: erstwhile Michigan running back Max Martin, a native Michigander who moved to Alabama for the last few years of his high school career, got in trouble a lot, and it started early. When Michigan checked up on Martin's progress for the first time, they found that Martin hadn't gone to any of his classes. He told the curious coaches that he didn't know he had to go; none the kids he knew at SEC schools had to.
After a couple seasons of fumbling and off-field transgressions, Martin transferred to Alabama. Their coaches' character check was this: "is he in trouble with the law?" At that moment, he was not.
Martin lasted one semester in Tuscaloosa.
Data: I have a friend who is getting her PhD in a humanities field and, as such, spends much time being the best GSI any of her students will ever come across. She is deeply conflicted about the presence and purpose of athletes in her classes and across the university in general, and has presented the following pieces of information in our discussion on the subject.
- When she was the GSI for a large lecture class, two football players three times her size were amongst her students. She was momentarily terrified of having authority issues, envisioning a future wherein the large recalcitrant men set a defiant example for the rest of the class, until she started talking and the two enormous guys were the first in the class to begin dutifully transcribing notes. Both were sweethearts, she says, and passed the class legitimately.
- The professor running this class has a reputation for checking up on the progress of athletes in his classes and pullin
g those who are struggling into... yep... independent study classes.
- Multiple times during the semester, athletic department representatives would drop by the class to make sure the enormous men were where their class schedules promised they would be.
Another semester, she was teaching freshman comp and had a men's swimmer fresh from high school, who struggled badly. At one point he tearfully confessed that he was overwhelmed. Practice was hard. School was hard. Travel was hard. Everything was hard, so hard, and he couldn't just quit one or the other and what was he going to do?
Data. Football takes lots of time:
Division I-A football players reported spending an average of 44.8 hours per week on their sport. That doesn't include the hours involved in taking care of their academic responsibilities.
Any school other than Duke or Vandy or Stanford will take any player who meets NCAA minimums that, on a non-athlete application, would be laughed out of the admissions office, and Duke and Vandy and Stanford (and the Ivy leagues) all bend their admissions standards severely. The NCAA has instituted punishments for schools that do not keep their players in school and on track for a degree.
Think we're still on the bubble? No? No?
Anyway, hockey is way less depressing. Tonight the playoffs open. Items:
Injuries. Kolarik is in, Vaughn and Rust are out. Both Vaughn and Rust may make it back next weekend; Rust broke a "non-weight bearing" bone in his leg.
Teevees. Saturday night's game is on Comcast for the super-duper package recipients of the world; Friday and Sunday are sorta available. Yost Built:
Friday's game and Sunday's if necessary game can be viewed (for free) at MGoBlue.com courtesy of WOLV-TV. Saturday's game will be aired on Comcast Sportscenter or whatever the hell the not-Comcast-Local station is called. It's in the 900s on your digital box. Thank God for Slingbox.
Elsewhere. Root against CC, North Dakota, and Wisconsin in their opening-round CCHA series.
ggggargharagharagh. See, my main concern with the basketball team is this: maybe Manny Harris just isn't good and won't get good. He's a second-team all Big Ten player as a freshman, but there's a severe Bracey Wright effect going on. Wright was the Indiana shooting guard who set Big Ten Wonk all a-frenzy because people kept insisting he was an All-Big Ten player:
Bracey Wright being named first-team All-Big-Ten ranks alongside Milli Vanilli's Best New Artist Grammy as the epitome of travesty-by-award.
Main point cited was Wright's tendency to score a lot of points by shooting without remorse. A table compiled from Kenpom:
|Player||Usage||eFG%||Ast Rt||TO rate||FT rate||Overall O RT|
Freshman Manny Harris is a much, much crappier version of senior Bracey Wright, which is not to say that he's bad, but to say that he's the basketball equivalent of Jimmy Clausen: the perfect kid to overrate. In Clausen's case the factors were multifarious (famous name, ND commitment, overcoaching, being older than everyone, playing solely against overmatched tiny schools). It's simpler for basketball players; all they have to do is take a buttload of shots.
This Harris did, with the 32nd highest usage rate in the country. Harris also had the lowest eFG% of anyone on the team except Anthony Wright and walkons. More damningly, the "best" player on the team also had a higher TO rate than anyone except David Merritt.
There are two large mitigating factors: he's a freshman, and he's dealing with a mini version of the Dion Harris effect wherein a high-usage player on a crappy team ends up taking a lot of horrific shots and turns the ball over a lot because he's playing one on five. This happened to Harris (Dion version) his sophomore year, when Abram missed the season, Horton got suspended for half of it, and the rest of the team was limping in slings and casts and the like. Everyone expected a breakout season when he wasn't playing with Dani Wohl, and they got... eh, pretty much the same.
My winding point: Harris is not one of the ten best players in the Big Ten, not by a longshot, and he will have to improve significantly or draw the wrath of the Ghost of Wonk. And the pained apathy of this space.
Like the other list, except with sad fugee faces.
5. Vince Helmuth and Mark Moundros. Maybe? Though the spread offense seems a wasteland for fullbacks and fellow lumberers, Owen Schmitt's "runaway beer truck" touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl was one more carry than Michigan fullbacks had last year, and Schmitt actually got to, like, carry the ball 46 other times. The Rodriguez system does have a place for a crushing lead blocker who can occasionally accept a dive handoff as part of the triple option, but does either fullback have that sort of ability?
Helmuth might. His final year at Saline he was the Dissolved Salts' main offensive threat, a pounding straight-ahead sort in the vein of Schmitt, and as Rivals #1 incoming fullback that year he has the sort of guru approval you'd like to see. And the offense last year was freakin' nuts for tight ends instead of fullbacks.
You know what? Scratch this. Fullbacks are probably going to be okay.
5. Brandon Graham, Terrance Taylor, Jason Kates, all other defensive lineman and so forth and such and such and so on. OH GOD MAKE IT STOP MAKE THE RUNNING STOP I'M THE SIZE OF A REFRIGERATOR AND MY LIGAMENTS ARE MORE STRETCHED THAN JOAN RIVERS' FACE ZING THAT'S MY ZINGER OH THE PAIN RESUMES NOOOOOOOOOOO
4. Darryl Stonum. Stonum liked Michigan for a lot of reasons, including its inherent Michigan-ness and the presence of high school teammates Troy Woolfolk and Brandon Herron, but high amongst the list of reasons was probably the Michigan tradition of heavily featuring one bionic deathbot wide receiver who goes on to a long and fruitful NFL career.
West Virginia has not so much had this tradition. Their number one target in the White-Slaton era has been diminutive Darius Reynaud, who is on track to be a sixth-round selection in this year's draft and will have to return punts like a mother to not get cut two years into his career. Stonum, no doubt, has higher hopes.
There is a precedent for a larger, more traditional sort of receiver making waves in the Rodriguez offense: Chris Henry. Though most know him as one of the two legendary asshats (Pacman Jones, of course, the other) guaranteed to be referenced by rival fans in their grasping attempts to paint Rodriguez as Mengele in a track jacket, Henry was also one bad mother on the field. As a redshirt freshman, Henry caught 41 balls for 1006 yards and ten touchdowns, a whopping 24.5 yards per catch. His sophomore season was marred by intermittent suspension and behavior-related reductions in playing time (he only started seven games, though I believe he played in all except maybe Pitt) but still saw him catch 52 passes for 872 yards. Henry was booted after that year, and despite his obvious character issues he was still drafted in the third round. If he could stay out of jail he'd be on his way to a productive NFL career. Presumably the affable Stonum will not have those issues.
So It's not like Stonum is going to see 20 balls a year until he flips out and transfers to Texas Tech. Rodriguez will adjust to talent, and since the quarterback this year is probably going to be water-buffalo-era relic Steven Threet, Michigan isn't going to run 71% of the time. But the projected starting quarterback transferred and Michigan is down to one, maybe one in a half bullets in a sort of anti-Russian roulette game in which you really, really need the gun to go "bang" or you end up at the Insight Bowl surrounded by confused bowl officials asking you if you know where Purdue is, where's Purdue, are you sure you guys aren't supposed to be Purdue?
3. Mike Massey. Whereas Carson Butler has a chance to start over with a coach who he doesn't have a combative relationship with, Mike Massey no longer has the Massey family guardian angel guiding his steps.
Massey hasn't done much other than almost make big catches so far in his Michigan career, and though he's a better blocker than Carson Butler (as there are six-year-old girls who are better blockers than Carson Butler this should be interpreted as faint praise), blocking defensive ends and blitzers has just acquired a significantly lower priority.
But the main reason Massey's hurt by the coaching switch is less complicated: the number of TE snaps just got halved. The short-lived Debord zone scheme was mad for tight ends, always deploying at least one (even on four-wide plays, one of the "wideouts" was a split TE) and frequently (say, half the time) two. Under Rodriguez the only time you'll see more than one TE is short yardage and there will be a hefty quantity of plays with four actual wide receivers on the field; many of the snaps that do have TEs will feature them split out in the slot, where they'll be blocking linebackers or even defensive backs. This heavily favors Butler and sophomore Martell Webb over old-school slow guys like Massey and (probably) Steve Watson.
2. Brandon Minor. Late in Minor's freshman year he looked like Mike Hart's heir apparent, though that was on the backs of a couple long runs that obscured his tendency to pick up three yards at all other times. Minor's talent cleared up his sophomore year, when Mike Hart was out; Minor and Brown split carries in several different games.
In those games Minor had some nice runs, but didn't display any wiggle. His 4.3 YPC was nice, but Carlos Brown's 5.1 exceeded it by almost a yard. (For those skeptical that Brown's meaningless 85-yard sprint against Minnesota distorts those statistics, if you chop those 85 yards down to 46 -- equivalent to Minor's season long -- Brown still has a half-yard on Minor.) He did spectacularly truck a Notre Dame safety towards the end of FBDII, but that pretty much summed up his attitude vis a vis defenders: "maybe I can run through this guy." Sometimes he can. Sometimes you're aiming straight for the SS Concussion.*
Minor was apparently passed by Carlos Brown last year, and that was before Michigan imported a speed freak who likes his running backs short, shifty, and blazing. Brandon Minor is none of those things.
*(hell yes, I'm just waiting for Michigan to finally have one of those guided missile safeties who don't even look for the ball when they've got a 50-50 shot at shoving a helmet through the torso of a defenseless wide receiver so I can call him "the SS Concussion." Although I might call Carson Butler that for his blocking "skills.")
1. Ryan "Whoops" Mallett. Obvs.
Angry Michigan Safety Hating God is wroth at the hockey team for some reason. First, Kolarik went down, then Scooter Vaughn (in one of the all-time stupid Michigan hockey injuries, up there with Josh Blackburn slipping on a nut when carrying a fridge), and now Eric Elmblad may have broken Matt Rust. Yost Built:
Rivals reported yesterday that he went knee-to-knee with Eric Elmblad and apparently Red will update his status after practice today. Keep your fingers crossed on this one, because rumors are swirling that he has a broken leg.
There is a chunk of good news:
Senior Chad Kolarik, who has been sidelined since suffering a hamstring injury against Lake Superior State Feb. 16, is "99-percent sure" he'll play in Friday's game. He resumed skating with the team last Tuesday.
"I'm just getting my hands back, getting my endurance back," he said yesterday. "I'm feeling a lot better today. I was pretty excited out there, having a good time and joking around."
That article has some noises by Vaughn about trying to go this weekend, too, but those are shot down by Red. He might be back for the Joe, though. Also mentioned: the possibility of moving Hagelin to center in Rust's absence. I've been idly thinking about the composition of next year's top line: Pacioretty is obviously on it, and since Palushaj seemed much more effective with Porter and Patch than Turnbull he's probably next. But who centers? Bork? Bork. Either him or Caporusso, who seems wasted playing with Turnbull and Miller and Fardig and such on the third line, no offense to those fine penalty-killing wingers.
Anyway, the Nebraska-Omaha series opens tomorrow at Yost.
Victory! Michigan's road to San Antonio began today with a thrilling 6-4 victory over Iowa that featuerd a 12-minute field goal drought for both teams combined. Prediction for tomorrow's game against Wisconsin (noon, ESPN): Michigan 7,000, Wisconsin 5. Suck on that, BAD-gers. Zing! (UMHoops on the win-like substance.)
Also, confirmed white guy Kyle Cassity has been offered. You'll love this bit:
In addition to Michigan, Cassity has indicated that he also plans to visit both St. Louis and Evansville, with the possibility of a couple other visits being worked out after that. Nevertheless, a school that we believe is also very much in the picture for Cassity and cannot be counted out is Southern Illinois (Carbondale), as both head coach Chris Lowery and assistant coach Rodney Watson have been in frequent contact with Cassity and have expressed a high level of interest. While the Salukis are currently out of scholarships for the class of 2008, Cassity is without question Southern Illinois' #1 recruiting priority should something open up in that class. Even if it does not, there is still a strong possibility that Cassity could receive preferred walk-on status at SIU next season with the understanding that a scholarship would be available for him for the three years following that.
Why go to Michigan when you can be a preferred walk-on at Southern Illinois? In Soviet Russia, walk-on recruits you! What a country!
There's some speculation that Cassity hasn't actually actually been offered offered and that Michigan still prefers Georgia's Ebuka Anyaorah (given Beilein's tendencies and that guy's name, I should clarify that we're talking about Georgia the state, not Georgia the country), even though Anyaorah couldn't come on a scheduled visit.
And hey, that guy who was the crown jewel of Harvard's recruiting class decided he didn't want to spend four years thinking "for God's sake, put on a tie" and decommitted. Apparently West Virginia was on this guy previously, and we could use another post, no? For those doubting his ability to play at a Big Ten level, 1) alternative: Zack Gibson, 2)
Jackson said that in the past day, he had received calls from Connecticut, Boston College, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, DePaul and Rutgers about Ben-Eze's availability.
A final note in picture form:
That's from Spartans Weblog and is a game-by-game plot of Michigan's offensive and defensive efficency with a corresponding trendline. Is there improvement here? Defensively, it appears so. Offensively... no. And you should keep in mind that Michigan's schedule was heavily frontloaded; this does not appear to be the trajectory of a team on the upswing.
Etc.: Junior day is today; Varsity Blue has it covered.