this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
Note: lately, I've been dumping a lot of things into UV that could rightly stand on their own as posts, and I'm going to try to split those things out in the future. Often I'll hold something for a day or two until the next edition and by that time every Michigan blog has already said their piece and I feel stupid. Also, much of the time I end up throwing a bunch of disparate stuff together -- that's kind of the point -- and it mucks up the categories. If you click "baseball" or something on the right sidebar you get posts with baseball, but often leetle pieces of baseball in a larger post.
So, anything that's news or news-y I'll post ASAP, and anything program-related and longer than a few lines will also get split out.
House. I should probably start plugging Michigan-relevant stuff I post on the Fanhouse since every couple days I get an email asking why I haven't covered X when there's a post up over there. So: Want Michigan tickets? Cut your legs off.
(It's already happening!)
On a more serious note, yes, it's a little annoying that handicapped fans get to cut in the season ticket line and get their PSLs waived, but those were probably conditions of the settlement and in the long run said settlement saved Michigan some coin, and a lot of seats.
The point. It's fashionable, and somewhat accurate, to bash Bill Simmons these days. But everything you need to know about why sports columnists are thrashing around in their death throes can be found in his post-Celtics victory column, and it's all about his dad. I am a little sick of Simmons' schtick, incredibly sick of Boston teams winning championships, and was sort of annoyed at parts of the column, but...
Dad bought a single season ticket for the Celtics for the 1973-74 season and carried me into the Garden for the next four years, sitting me on his lap and even letting me sleep on him during the famous triple-OT game against Phoenix in 1976. When I became too big to sit on his lap, he bought a second ticket even though we really didn't have any money at the time. And we've had those two tickets ever since. How do you repay someone for a lifelong experience like that? You don't. You can't.
...this and the discussion that follows it is about the strange thing fandom is, something only a lifelong fan could communicate. Often, I think, we start pulling for a team by proxy. I wanted Michigan to win when I was a child so my dad would be happy. When Michigan was trailing by 21 in the Water Buffalo Stampede Minnesota game, my girlfriend at the time wanted Michigan to do well so I wouldn't accidentally shove her off the couch again in rage. Now that I'm friends with the sort of Auburn fan who involuntarily screams things like "GO LESTER" on every run longer than three yards, I want Auburn to win.
At some point a switch flips and the rooting is no longer by proxy and now you're just sort of infected with this thing. And it makes you do and think very strange things about completely irrelevant external events, and coping and dealing with this weird little disease of passion requires a sort of support group.
In general, newspapers have chosen to strip the passion out of their sports section in favor of objectivity. They've been so successful at it that Bill Simmons -- a "blogger" according to sneerin' Rick Reilly -- is the most famous and influential sportswriter* in the country.
*(writer. Wilbon, Kornheiser, etc... TV.)
Man down. Alabama cornerback Lionel Mitchell, he of the severe back problems that sort of held him out of spring practice, -- brutal! -- is yet another medical scholarship recipient. Will Alabama make it? This is exciting!
Via MVictors, which helpfully picks out this sentence:
"If you can't make it intense, and make the environment an environment that elicits greatness, and get into that environment, coach, and make kids energetic about, and fired up about putting 500 pounds on their back and hittin' reps and running sprints until they throw up and pushing themselves to the absolute limits of their mental and physical capabilities then you're not doing anything, you've wasted your time with your science because they're not going to grow if they're not pushing themselves to those points..."
Dude, Faulkner just threw up in a bush.
Ohio State quarterback Antonio Henton has reportedly told his Buckeye teammates he's headed for GSU, an ESPN writer confirmed to the Statesboro Herald Wednesday. Georgia Southern's B-term for summer classes begins next week, and second-year GSU coach Chris Hatcher said he couldn't discuss transfers until then. Henton could not be reached for comment.
That leaves Ohio State with eh starter Todd Boeckman, Pryor, and thousand-year-old walk-on(? - I think) Joe Bauserman. They aren't much deeper than Michigan, though they are more experienced/hyped/diapered.
Dash. Wisconsin people say don't get your hopes up for Charter or Time Warner:
"I think they're going to be really, really lucky to get it done by football season," Prof. Barry Orton told The Capital Times. "It means they have to turn this around in a month and a half or so. That's tight. I would think we're safer to say (a deal will be done) probably by basketball season and maybe by the end of football season."
Yes, yes it does. NBC's extended their contract with Notre Dame another five years, and they're very proud of it:
"We are thrilled to continue this landmark partnership with Notre Dame," Ebersol said during a conference call. "Notre Dame defines who we at NBC Sports are: from the Olympics, to the U.S. Golf Open to Notre Dame."
From the Olympics... to golf... to Notre Dame football! NBC sports: the home of soft-focus quasi sporting events that only appeal to white people!
Meanwhile, the Rock Report writes from an alternative universe:
Who kills the magic at Notre ame? Often times it's the very network that supports it... NBC has been a good partner, but it is time ND started demanding more from NBC.
Past snark, the new NBC contract is lame for ND, the Big Ten, and college football in general. It guarantees seven home games and an eighth "neutral site" game that ND contr
ols the gate and TV for. If you fit that into a conference framework, ND has four home games and four road games like any Big Ten team was, then three nonconference home games and a "neutral site" game... if a Big Ten team tried that their nonconference schedule would be Wisconsin's. And with home-and-home slots given over to USC, Navy (-ish), Michigan, and three Big East teams, Notre Dame is going to have to push out traditional rivals like Purdue and Michigan State to make it work.
To ND fans' credit, they loathe this state of affairs as much or more than Michigan fans hate the idea of the MAC-MAC-Utah at best-ND nonconference schedule that seems to be Michigan's fate for the next thousand years. Again, I say: the NCAA can stop this if they care to. Force five true road games a year. Limit commercial time in broadcasts. Stop trying to squeeze every nickel out of a supposedly nonprofit enterprise.
Chances of this happening: zero.
Etc.: New IU blog Cannot Falter highlights some interesting chatter from the Knight commission on APRs and infractions; here's a theory as to why Mendenhall hates Zook. 20 questions on M from the OZone... IMO, not up to Gerdeman's usual standard. Recruting notes from UMHoops.
(What a good job I did of cutting this down.)
It's done-done, announced-done, done. The niggling detail discussed last night:
Under the terms of the agreement, Comcast will initially launch the Network as part of its expanded basic level of service to promote it to the majority of its customers residing in states with Big Ten universities (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, with the exception of the Philadelphia region which will launch on a broadly distributed digital level of service) starting August 15th. (Comcast does not have systems in Iowa, the eighth Big Ten state.) In Spring 2009, Comcast may elect to move the network to a broadly distributed digital level of service in most of its systems in these states
Expanded basic for a year, then a move to "broadly distributed" digital basic. No tiers. Outside of the footprint, Comcast can put it anywhere, which means sports tier.
This is a major win for the BTN, which now covers a majority of its footprint and will do so for the foreseeable future. Now the focus shifts to Time Warner, Mediacom, and Charter.
A day after I trash the Free Press for focusing on things like Tae Bo instead of information, Mark Snyder puts out an interesting piece about the '97 championship and the ballboys that saved it. This is literally the headline: "How 2 ballboys stopped opponent's signal stealing, saved UM's 1997 title."
The story: two student managers ferret out that Northwestern has somehow stolen Michigan's offensive signals, and run over to the other side of the field at half time to urge Lloyd Carr and company to change things up. After being bottled up in the first half, scoring thirteen points, Michigan explodes for... uh... ten in the second. Without the student manager's contribution, Michigan could have lost to Northwestern by negative one touchdown. The final score was 23-6.
Okay, so the story is oversold. It's still pretty interesting as a tall tale from the past, and you should read it if you've got a few minutes. My take-home message was vastly different from what was intended, I think.
Some key passages:
"There was a guy on their sideline that day, and he had our signals down pat," Datz said. "Every time, he would scream into the defense what we're going to do -- pass or run -- and he was almost always right. ...
"They were blowing up draws, calling our counters and destroying our screen passes -- all a big part of our plays that year. I was just screaming mad. Youtan and I are thinking to ourselves, 'This guy has us.' "
Raise your hand if you think you could predict with 80% certainty whether a Michigan play would be a run or pass. It is possible they just co-opted a cranky 50-something Michigan fan.
Anyway, the kids run across the field and tell Carr early in the third quarter. This is the result:
"I absolutely remember that," Carr said recently. "The reason I do remember it is I don't ever remember anybody else offering advice or information during a game.
"Those are all bright guys that get into those positions. But that's the only time I remember one telling me something."
But that still wasn't enough for the coaches to change their signal calling. So later in the quarter, Datz said he ran around the field to repeat the message to Magnus.
The play that finally sold the U-M coaches on the need to adjust came on a third-and-25 with less than three minutes left in the third quarter. That's when U-M tailback Clarence Williams ran a sweep -- an odd call for that down and distance -- and two Wildcats grabbed him behind the line of scrimmage.
It's only after this play that Michigan grabs Jason Kapsner and starts sending in multiple sets of signals. But this is the kicker:
In 1995 and '96, Hansburg said, all he had to do was watch U-M center Rod Payne, a one-handed snapper who apparently placed his opposite hand on the ground for a running play and on his thigh for a passing play.
This was the plot of an episode of Coach. When the Minnesota State Screaming Eagles play for the national championship in the Pioneer Bowl, ditzy assistant coach Luther Van Dam (Jerry Van Dyke) gets concussed and has to watch from the hospital, where he notices one offensive lineman has totally different stances for run and pass. He calls in the tip and Hayden Fox gets a Gatorade bath. I was 14, and 14 years later I remember this clear as day.
Reading Johnny's piece yesterday was the love side of my love-hate relationship with Lloyd Carr. This is the hate side. ONE: Michigan didn't bother employing multiple signal-callers -- a zero-cost activity -- from day one. TWO: It took them a full quarter and a second prodding to actually act on the information provided by the student managers when the cost of listening was zero. THREE: They ran a sweep on third and twenty-five. FOUR: Michigan football was outsmarted by Jerry Van Dyke.
Silver spoon, coal spoon
None of this should surprise you. This was a program that would run 95% of the time it lifted its starting wide receivers. Lloyd Carr thought deception and trickery had their place in football, and that place was Northwestern.
When you are at a place like Michigan and you have been inculcated in the culture of the program for the vast majority of your coaching career, I think you take certain things for granted. One of them is the belief that a paramount focus on execution is enough. That if you motivate and educate and drill better than the other team, you will win. It did very well for Bo until he got to Pasadena, and it did pretty well for Carr until Tressel showed up (and, it must be said, Carr had a real run of rotten luck re: actually getting to use his senior quarterbacks), but it was always giving something away. You have a limited amount of time with your charges every week; there is always time to work on your poker skills. Michigan's been bad at poker forever.
Rich Rodriguez focuses on execution and motivation -- see Barwis -- but he also makes deception his stock-in-trade, creating a modern version of the triple option that has intricate variations and one end result: linebacker confetti. In a way, the spread 'n' shred is terribly predictable. They run, they run, they run. But you do not run more than all but five other teams and finish top five in YPC three years running unless you know when to bluff and when to raise.
Rodriguez comes from a wholly different background than Carr, coming up through the ranks at NAIA schools and Tulane and Clemson and West Virginia. Until Pat White showed up he never had a significant talent advantage agaginst the vast majority of opponents. He never, ever had the luxury of lying back and thinking to himself "if we out-execute the opponent we will win," and it shows. He invented a whole new offense and used it to exploit inefficiencies in recruiting. To seal the Sugar Bowl against Georgia he called a fake punt, exploiting inefficiencies in fourth-down playcalling. For the past seven years he has played Moneyball at West Virginia.
To me, the exciting thing about Rodriguez is not necessarily his system but his mindset. He's looking to squeeze out every ounce of expectation, make every resource stretch as far as he can, and now he's been provided resources few other coaches have. When Moneyball moved to Boston in the personage of Theo Epstein, Pedro Martinez got a hat:
My sophomore year at Michigan was 1998, one of only two years during the long and glorious reign of John Cooper that featured an Ohio State victory in the Game. That one was in Columbus and so I watched in a crowded dorm room that quickly settled into a pissed little funk. A few doors down, we heard the wrong kind of shouts coming from another room. Someone was pulling for Ohio State. Loudly.
It's inevitable that a few poor souls who grew up fans of Ohio State want to be engineers or lawyers or American Studies PhDs (#1 in the country, baby! woo!) and common sense leads them to That School Up North even if their skin crawls at every block M they see. And surely there are a few Michigan fans who wish to learn the fine art of motor vehicle repair. They still carry the rivalry in their blood.
Thirty years of back and forth smack-talk. "1968 - ONE WE WON'T FORGET" meets "HOW ABOUT 1969?" Three different people mention that "Roses are Blue." One Ohio State fan scribbles scores from the Ten Year War down. And, of course, "FUCK MICHIGAN." You stay classy, etc.
This is the heart of rivalry, at once stupid and glorious.
*(Which is a totally fascinating book I demand some Ohio State blogger dissect thoroughly. Page 82 is titled "The Causes of Interceptions" and starts "Since the vogue nowadays is to think positively, some pedagogues no doubt will look askance at such an obviously negative approach as this." Woody Hayes may have been a linebacker-punching, hate-filled lunatic but the number of coaches who would deploy "pedagogue" as a snooty put-down in 2008 is between zero and Mike Leach, and you have to respect that.)
I've been covering the upcoming Big Ten Network-Comcast deal at the Fanhouse (Fanhouse links, by the way, can always be found on the right sidebar). A deal is imminent, but there is a potential not so fast my friend. David Jones reports that the sunny 25 million additional subscribers reported by the Chicago Tribune a couple days ago is not quite right:
Whatever, while the cable carrier's people confirm a deal is close, the agreement as it stands now would place the BTN on expanded basic for only eight months -- the upcoming football and basketball season -- on a trial basis and only within the Big Ten's eight-state footprint. Comcast, they say, would then have the option of pulling the BTN off expanded basic and sticking it on the more expensive digital tier, possibly in a sports-channel package.
Bolded section mine, because WTF?
Jones makes it clear that moving the channel to digital basic is not a big deal. 80% of Comcast subscribers in the Big Ten Network footprint already have it, and those numbers will only increase. But the prospect of an eight-month test period followed by exactly the situation the Big Ten declared unacceptable is gross. It would be, essentially, caving. It would be this:
Another article, this one from Philly.com, has contradictory information:
Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, would provide the Big Ten programming on a preview basis on its main channel package, then reposition the network to its more expensive digital tier next spring, after the football and basketball seasons, the sources say.
Customers with enhanced basic service would have to upgrade to digital when the preview ends to keep the Big Ten Network.
In the Philadelphia area, Comcast will skip the preview and carry the Big Ten Network right away on the digital tier, sources said.
Digital tier == no big deal. Sports package == disaster. Keep an eye peeled.