At press time, Harbaugh had sent Michigan’s athletic department an envelope containing a heavily annotated seating chart, a list of the 63,000 seat views he had found unsatisfactory, and a glowing 70-page report on section 25, row 12, seat 9, which he claimed is “exactly what the great sport of football is all about.”
Jake Ryan is out indefinitely with a torn ACL suffered in Tuesday's practice.
- Toussaint is in pads. Walking around and stuff. Not doing everything yet but progress looks good.
- Thomas Gordon is practicing at both safety positions so they can try the other guys out at both positions as well.
- Blake Countess's redshirt application has not been filed yet, but it will be.
- Frank Clark is staying at WDE despite gaining a lot of weight. There are no plans to move him to strongside.
“It was good to be the first day in pads. I thought we had a lot of enthusiasm like the physicalness that they played with -- really for the last three days, because even with the no-pads they got after each other pretty good. We have a lot of competition, have a lot of young guys that have to go out and compete. And then some of the older guys who have played, obviously, and they have to compete also. Everybody understands that, so it’s been good. I think the leadership’s good. I like the way they’ve handled themselves and handled the team. Like I said before, that stems from the winter into this phase.”
At my childhood home in Ann Arbor, a framed photo is propped up on the bookshelf in my brother’s old room. It shows my brother, Jack, and me with a close family friend in the cheap seats of The Palace of Auburn Hills. It was the spring of 1995, and I was seven years old. I couldn’t look more excited to be there, the smile on my face borderline cartoonish.
My father, a Detroit native and Michigan grad, had moved the family from San Francisco to Ann Arbor less than two years prior. In that time, he’d introduced me to Michigan football and Red Wings hockey; my brother and I alternated fall Saturdays with him at the Big House, and early summer evenings were reserved for watching playoff hockey in the living room. Dad was never a big basketball guy, though, so I had to look elsewhere to find an NBA rooting interest.
My father’s business partner lived in Ann Arbor at the time. Gail was a Boston native and, naturally, a Celtics fan—“The Celtics will rise again,” she’d like to say—and she also acted as a second mother to Jack and me. When my parents wanted a break from raising the two of us, we’d spend the night at Gail’s apartment. That was where she introduced us to basketball; one of my most vivid childhood memories is sitting on her bed, eating popcorn and watching J.R. Rider win the ’94 Slam Dunk Contest with his between-the-legs “East Bay Funk” dunk.
Gail also introduced us to Michael Jordan, and like most everyone of my generation, I couldn’t get enough of watching him play. He’d retired to play baseball, of course, but we’d pop in Bulls championship VHS tapes and marvel at the greatest. When I got home, I’d go to the backyard and play on the Little Tykes hoop set up on our brick patio, throwing down one-handed—and in my mind, buzzer-beating—dunks with my tongue out, just like Mike. Though I also watched the Pistons, rooted for them, collected their sports cards, I never pretended to be Grant Hill or Joe Dumars. If you’re not the best in your dreams, why have dreams?
On March 18th, 1995, I was in the midst of one of these backyard fantasy sessions. My mother rarely interrupted these except to call me in for dinner. This time, though, she walked out of the back door bearing an important message.
This was how, less than a month later, I’d be photographed at the home of the Detroit Pistons wearing a Bulls hat and Michael Jordan Birmingham Barons shirt. Jack wore a similar outfit. Gail, the Celtics fan, donned a Bulls sweatshirt. Some athletes transcend sports fandom.
My lasting memory of that night is seeing Jordan, wearing #45 and playing his way into shape, commanding the full attention of every spectator. He may not have been at the peak of his game, but the best player on the court was obvious to everyone in the building. From the cheap seats, my eyes rarely left Jordan, awestruck by his effortless greatness.
The box score shows that MJ scored 29 points that night, going 12/23 from the field while adding nine rebounds and nine assists; a great game, sure, but not one that would leave a lifelong impression on a budding sports fanatic if not for the nature by which it was achieved—with complete ease and confidence, Jordan moved through the game like he was starring in a play for which only he knew the script.
The box score also shows that Scottie Pippen had the night off, Allen Houston and Terry Mills combined to hit 10/13 three-pointers, and Joe Dumars dished out 13 assists. I remember none of these things, just watching Michael Jordan lead the Bulls to victory and going home happy.
Last Thursday, I walked past Michael Jordan’s statue and into Gate 3 ½ of the United Center, though a winding hallway adorned with photos of other Bulls greats, going by Jordan’s old locker room before finding a spot in the media workroom. Michigan’s opener in the Big Ten Tournament was the first road basketball game I’ve covered this season, so I immediately checked the seating chart—I get stressed in unfamiliar settings and wanted to know exactly where I needed to be when the game started.
As it turned out, press row at the United Center is courtside—unlike the Crisler Center, where the media is seated in the upper bowl—and I had a spot near the end of the second row. I’ve watched a lot of basketball, but this would be a new perspective. When covering games, I try to act like I’ve been there before, maintain a certain level of professional decorum, but when I got to my seat I couldn’t help but pull out my phone and snap a picture of the view:
As a blogger/fan working among full-time beat reporters, covering this year’s Michigan team has presented a challenge. The Wolverines have not just won in a way I’ve never experienced, they’ve done so while churning out the highlights; every instinct I have is to leap out of my seat and yell after each alley-oop, twisting layup, step-back three, or go-ahead jumper. This, of course, is not acceptable behavior in the working press area. I’ve been forced to perfect the subtle lean back in my seat, eyebrows arched, mouth slightly agape, reserving a slight shake of the head for the best of plays.
No player has elicited that response more than Trey Burke, for obvious reasons. On a team as talented as Michigan, his skill stands head-and-shoulders above the rest, even if he’s usually the smallest guy on the floor. While the others wear their emotions on their sleeve and struggle to consistently play their role, Burke wears the same expression as he goes about his business—calm yet intense, and utterly composed at all times.
He looks this way while making opponents defend air with his hesitation crossover, or throwing a pinpoint lob, or doing his best Rajon Rondo impression, or doing his best Dirk Nowitzki impression, or sneaking up to block Aaron Craft from behind, or picking Keith Appling clean at halfcourt and throwing down the winning dunk.
The Look was there for the second half of Thursday’s game. Michigan came out of halftime with just a two-point lead on the lowly Nittany Lions; Burke had started slowly, just 3/9 from the field, and it felt like the rest of the team was waiting for him to take charge.
The Wolverines were now shooting on the basket directly in front of me, giving me an ideal view of the Trey Burke Experience. Three minutes into the half, Burke inbounded the ball to Tim Hardaway Jr., took the return feed, and calmly drilled a corner three, standing no more than six feet in front of me. I turned into that wide-eyed kid again, and would stay that way for the remainder of the game, as Burke poured in 13 second-half points and the Wolverines pulled away, eventually winning by 17.
One moment in particular left me shaking my head in disbelief while I suppressed every urge to go into full-on fan mode. One of Burke’s go-to moves off the pick and roll is to stop his drive on a dime at the free-throw line and rise for a quick, unguardable pull-up jumper. With just under 13 minutes left, Burke took a Jordan Morgan screen and made his way into the lane, briefly checking over his shoulder to locate his defender, PSU’s D.J. Newbill, who was trailing him after fighting over Morgan’s pick.
In the moment that Burke peered over his shoulder, Penn State center Sasa Borovnjak—who’d been cautiously ceding ground—stepped up hard. At 6’9”, Borovnjak gave Burke, listed at a generous 6’0”, a sudden and tall obstacle. Normally, Burke likes to shoot that pull-up jumper like Chauncey Billups shoots his free throws—on a line, drilling that spot on the back of the rim that great shooters always seem to find. This time, however, that trajectory was no longer an option.
It’s barely perceptible on film, but what Burke did next is what separates him from the rest of the country—and every Michigan player I’ve had the opportunity to watch play. With an ever-so-subtle double-clutch, Burke shifted his right hand an inch or so to the underside of the basketball, then released a high-arcing shot that barely eluded Borovnjak’s outstretched fingers. The ball hit nothing but twine.
Burke momentarily held his shooting pose, as if to show the world that it's really as simple as this. For him, at least, it is.
The crowd reacted as they had for most of Burke’s baskets: with polite applause. This is what we’ve come to expect from him. We're jaded by a 20-year-old sophomore.
Burke would hit two strikingly similar shots later in the half, each recalling the one before but noticeably different in execution. I’ve included his highlights from the game in the above video. What strikes me the most isn’t Burke’s skill in shooting, passing, dribbling, or even on-ball defense, a part of his game that’s seemingly come out of nowhere in the latter half of the season. It’s Gus Johnson—that Gus Johnson—barely changing the inflection of his voice as he relays Burke’s latest masterpiece to the television audience.
The next afternoon, Burke couldn’t will Michigan to a victory over Wisconsin, though not for lack of trying. With the Wolverines down ten points with just over five minutes left, Burke almost single-handedly pulled the team back within four, recording a steal, two free throws on the ensuing foul, two more baskets, and even a block in the next 2 ½ minutes—his only miss in that span led directly to a Mitch McGary putback. The comeback stalled there as the defense faltered, but in an otherwise dreadful game Burke once again reminded everyone why he should be the national player of the year.
Burke put up 19 points and seven assists in that game, almost exactly matching his season average for both categories. This season, the question has ceased to be whether he’ll produce—he’s scored 15 points or more in every Big Ten game—but how hard he’d have to work to get there and if he’d have sufficient help along way. The Badgers made it a struggle—Burke took 22 shots, making only eight—and even then Burke’s misses were just barely off the mark. Left with no margin for error, it felt like Burke was mere inches away from dragging his team to victory anyway.
Much like the peripheral players faded from that night at Auburn Hills, eventually my memories of the Wisconsin loss, the late-season swoon, the crappy perimeter defense, they’ll all be lost to time, or at least need to be jarred into clarity by a Google search. What will stick is Trey Burke, expressionless, pulling up for that right-hand floater, each one nearly identical yet perceptibly different.
Incidentally, Michigan returns to the scene of my dalliance with sports bigamy on Thursday. I will not be there, having intentionally missed the deadline to apply for a credential. I want to experience Burke’s (likely) final games as a Wolverine as my seven-year-old self did Michael Jordan’s comeback: free to wear my team’s colors, leap out of my seat, and holler when a rare talent pulls off moves most of us save for backyard dreams.
Trey Burke has done terrible and wonderful things to my cardiovascular system. He rekindled a passion for this basketball team that lay mostly dormant since I was staying up late in my sleepy pajamas to watch Glen Rice. We've been through more wins together than any season since the Fab Five were sophomores, and the most heartbreaking losses since that era abruptly ended under North Carolina's basket. He's put up more than a few heart-stopping game-breakers, and slipped through defenders so fast he owes me 1,000 beats. And yet it might have ended last year. The next L we go through together in all likelihood be our last. Unless…
How it works:
- I put up a winnable prize that consists of a desirable good.
- You guess the final scores of the designated game, and put it in the comments, preferably in the format of [M's Score]-[Opponent's Score]. First person to post a particular score has it.
- If you guess either game correctly, we contact you. If not, go to (5)
- The desirable good arrives at the address you give us.
- Non-winners can acquire the same desirable good by trading currency for it.
- Seriously, you don't have to actually guess a basketball score to get this shirt. You can buy it.
About Last Time:
Revenge Quest '13 got as far as Penn State before ARRRGHHH II but that was enough to get a shirt to lbpeley, who had Michigan a free throw off from the 83-66 score. Second place was also one off but gave the point to Penn State. Tsk tsk tsk tsk.
This Week's Game:
It's dancing time. South Dakota State versus Michigan on Thursday evening.
And the Prize:
If Trey comes back for a third year I'll give $1,000 myself.
/permits self a moment to dream of a junior Trey Burke
/lingers in fantasy world
/returns to this one, resolves to appreciate the hell out of this NCAA tournament run, however long it lasts.
Fine print: One entry per user. First user to choose a set of scores wins, determined by the timestamp of your entry (make it easy on me and write your score in digits with a hyphen between them. Deadline for entries is sometime within 24 hours before the start of the game—whenever I can get online in that time and lock the thread. MGoEmployees and Moderators exempt from winning because you can change scores. We did not invent the algorithm. The algorithm consistently finds Jesus. The algorithm is banned in China. The algorithm is from Jersey. The algorithm is not just a shooter. The algorithm always fouls Cody Zeller. The algorithm can’t explain why Big Ten officials think it’s their duty to help Bo Ryan. The algorithm spent 10 years as the Indiana of basketball, if that makes sense. This is not the algorithm. This is close.
Yesterday, the NFL settled with a group of former players who had sued them for using their identities without permission. What's more, the NFL had an insane-seeming clause barring those same players from using their own identifies:
Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea and five other retired players filed the federal class-action lawsuit in Minneapolis in 2009 accusing the NFL of blatantly exploiting retired players' identities in films, highlight reels and memorabilia to market the league's "glory days."
"The retired players who created these glory days, however, have gone almost completely uncompensated for this use of their identities," the plaintiffs said. "Notably, while exploiting the identities of retired players for commercial gain, the NFL prohibits retired NFL players from using their own identities as players to promote themselves commercially."
Instead of facing down a court case, the NFL settled to the tune of 42 million dollars. Because they were going to lose, hard. Yesterday was a good day for Ed O'Bannon.
O'Bannon, of course, is the former UCLA basketball player irritated enough that he was in an EA Sports game to launch a class-action suit against the NCAA for almost the same issue the NFL just settled on, down to the insane-seeming cause. In the NCAA, those athletes sign away their publicity rights in perpetuity as a condition of the scholarship they get. But as anyone who's followed discussion about a coach's multimillion dollar buyout clause knows, just because it's in a contract doesn't mean its enforceable. Thus the pending class action.
O'Bannon and company have shifted tack from the relatively paltry amount of money provided by video game publishers to the Big Kahuna, amending their complaint to target game broadcasts. The NCAA's last response is to prevent the class from being certified thanks to a precedent they earned in a different breathtakingly cynical fight:
The NCAA relies heavily on its victory in a case regarding scholarship limits. Walk-on football players filed a class action against the NCAA arguing that in the absence of the 85 scholarship limit, they would have received full athletic scholarships. The court in that case refused to certify the class, because each player would have to prove individually that he would have received a football scholarship.
Yesterday, a bunch of motions in that case were made public, and everyone seized on this Jim Delany statement to laugh at the most hollow threat not made by a Jong-Il in the past 50 years:
Rather, it has been my longstanding belief that The Big Ten's schools would forgo the revenues in those circumstances and instead take steps to downsize the scope, breadth, and activity of their athletic programs. Several alternatives to a "pay for play" model exist, such as the Division III model, which does not offer any athletics-based grants-in-aid, and, among others, a need-based financial aid model. These alternatives would, in my view, be more consistent with The Big Ten's philosophy that the educational and lifetime economic benefits associated with a university education are the appropriate quid pro quo for its student-athletes.
Stupid or deceitful? I think the latter given Jim Delany's extremely malleable opinion on playoffs, but then again he is the man who gave us "Leaders and Legends" and wrote an open letter about how the SEC is poopy pants in 2007, thus dooming us to ALL THE SEC since. We may never know.
This is an organization that feels a university education is a sufficient quid pro quo for work that earns various people seven-figure salaries to play glorified secretary, and then fights lawsuits that would open up those university educations to more people because that might impinge on those seven figure salaries.
And this, of course, is a man who has spent the last twenty years thinking about nothing but money. He created a television network for money. He added Nebraska for money. He split Michigan and Ohio State in the vague hope of getting more money if they played twice. He added Rutgers and Maryland for money despite the fact that 11 of the 12 fanbases in the Big Ten would rather boil themselves in oil than play those teams in anything. Once he is presented with the idea he might have to share some of his money, he threatens to take the whole damn thing out of the system, into another system that will be exposed to the same legal precedent that prevents you from outrageously sharecropping athletes. The answer is probably "both." As Michael of Braves and Birds put it on twitter:
Delany's declaration is one step removed from threatening to attack Fort Sumter. "Our whole economic system is built on exploitation, so if you require that we pay our labor, we'll secede!" - Delany as Jefferson Davis.
As it becomes increasingly clear that the value of a university degree is coming unhinged from how much it costs, athletic departments continue to pile up more and more money that has to go somewhere. Increasingly, that is to the Jim Delanys of the world:
Michigan Budget, 2006
- Revenue of 68 million dollars
- 21 million spent on "salaries, wages, and benefits"
- 11 million spent on "financial aid to students"
Michigan Budget, 2013
- Revenue of 130 million dollars (a 91% increase)
- 44 million spent on "salaries, wages, and benefits" (a 109% increase)
- 18 million spent on "financial aid to students" (a 64% increase)
Despite the increase in athlete outlays, really there is no increased value there for the folks actually making the money. Instead the athletic department adds sports (lacrosse) and the University continues its unsustainable tuition spiral. The net for the athlete is the degree, then and now. When Texas A&M offered Bo a million dollars and he was reduced to tears because he had to choose between securing his family and staying at Michigan, that was maybe plausible. Today? Bitch, please.
According to a recent report in USA Today Sports, athletic directors at FBS schools are paid an average of $515,000 annually, an increase of more than 14 percent since … 2011. At the low end of the scale, Louisiana-Monroe AD Bobby Staub took home $109,923; at the high end, Louisville's Tom Jurich pocketed $1,401,915. Over the last two years, the number of athletic directors making $1 million or more has jumped from six to nine, while the number making $800,000 or more has risen from nine to 15. None of this is entirely new. Back in 2010 -- that is, when unemployment was at 9.9 percent and the nation was still reeling from the worst financial crisis since 1929 -- at least 10 public schools gave their athletic directors pay raises of $75,000 or more.
But you feel that a university education is the same bonus it's always been. You feel that it's fair that every extra dollar the players on the field make is destined for someplace other than their pockets. I feel that if every athletic director in the country disappeared tomorrow, no one outside their families would notice, and that if you took the best player off of every BCS football team the country would collapse into riots and chaos by Thursday. Useless vampires of college sports, I hope the courts annihilate your business model so thoroughly you end up shining Denard Robinson's shoes.
"People who have talent and bring something significant to the party expect to be paid fairly. I have no problem stepping up and paying talent for what they deserve."
A twitter troll finds out what happens when keepin' it real goes wrong, ESPN continues to be ESPN, Sparty continues to be Sparty, a junior hockey team scores at 4:20 , and... Jose Canseco.
Dad, We’re Well Out of Range
Boxers can’t get all the way over here…
If you’ve ever seen a kid at the zoo, you probably laughed a little inside when he was deathly frightened by the tiger behind the giant piece of tiger-proof Plexiglas. “After all,” you thought to yourself, “doesn’t he know that we’re safe here?” But when you think about it, the kid is probably right; the tiger PROBABLY won’t be able to get to us, but if he does… TIGER.
This brings us to the cautionary tale of “The Master,” (aka @jimmyob88) a troll who trolled the wrong dude. After professional boxer Curtis Woodhouse lost a fight, our internet tough guy started to taunt the ACTUAL tough guy, saying things like (edits mine):
@woodhousecurtis Haha u lost u silly mug fight a 10 year old next time if u want to actually win u waste of [reproductive fluids]
— the master (@jimmyob88) March 11, 2013
Random internet dude taunts athlete. Shocking news. But wait, who left the door to the tiger cage open?
Someone told Woodhouse who Jimmy was, and more importantly, where he lived. Now, to be clear, I am not advocating vigilante justice. I am not advocating vigilante justice. I am not… okay, screw it. Vigilante justice please. The best part was that Woodhouse live-tweeted his journey of impending doom:
HEY THERE, KITTY KITTY. It was at this point, when this dude saw a picture of his own street sign that our troll friend decided, “maybe I should apologize.”
@woodhousecurtis i am sorry its getting abit out of hand i am in the wrong i accept that
— the master (@jimmyob88) March 11, 2013
The lessons here are pretty clear. Sure, you probably shouldn’t troll athletes for all the usual reasons (it’s an immature thing to do, it reflects poorly on you and the things you support, it can come back to bite you professionally, it’s intrusive on people who are simply trying to do their jobs, blah blah blah), but also because they might show up at your door feelin’ all punchy.
Then again, if you have a raw steak you can throw at them, they might get distracted.
NFL free agency began this week, which is ESPN’s signal to remove Adam Schefter from his undersea lair and unleash him Kraken-like upon the sports world. Schefter does a great job, and has sources in every conceivable corner of professional football. ESPN, though, may have taken their Schefter love a bit too far:
That’s an hour-by-hour count of how many tweets Schefter sent on Tuesday. It’s not about WHAT he was tweeting, but was instead about how MUCH he was tweeting. Now, I didn’t see the segment, so I have no idea what point they were trying to make, but I have some guesses:
- “As you can see, a bunch of interesting stuff happened in the NFL during the 3:00 hour.”
- “Once Schefter stopped live-tweeting ‘Dr. Phil‘, he sent out a bunch of good NFL-related info.”
- “NUMBERS DON’T LIE. HERE ARE SOME NUMBERS.”
- “Is Schefter still elite? Or is he coasting based on his 3:00 success?”
- “Look, we have 24 hours to fill on each of ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPNNEWS, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN Classic. YOU try to do that without resorting to crap like this.”
Speaking of the Worldwide Leader…
Last week there was a dumbass segment on ESPN First Take. They call the segment “ESPN First Take.” It was a ‘debate’ between Skip Bayless and Richard Sherman, and it was everything you have come to expect from that. I don’t want to poison your mind with the stupid, but if you really want to watch it, click here but do not click there. Bill Simmons, who is an ESPN employee, took to Twitter to declare his displeasure:
ESPN responded with their usual easy-going attitude about criticism, by which I mean that according to Deadspin they suspended Simmons from Twitter for a couple of days. This is apparently not the first time they’ve done this to Simmons.
So yeah, ESPN gave one of their biggest names a time-out for sassing. No word on whether Simmons was made to write statements on a blackboard or sit in a corner to think about what he’s done. They can’t confront Simmons about it because that would make it a bigger story, and because Simmons was right. They can’t AGREE with Simmons, because that would mean starting a conflict with Skip Bayless and OH MY GOD STOP GIVING SKIP BAYLESS THINGS TO TALK ABOUT THAT ARE ABOUT SKIP BAYLESS. I suppose their other option would be to just shrug and move on with life, but that was… unlikely. So they needed to do something, and they decided to go with a petty slap on the wrist.
But does it strike me as really petty and pointless to take away one communication medium from a guy who has as many platforms of communication as Simmons. It also seems really stupid to piss off Simmons, who is one of the less scoffed-at figures in the ESPN empire. They’re down to very few “personalities” who aren’t openly scorned by everyone not employed by ESPN. Take a look at this list of “commentators” and count the people aren’t absolutely terrible. Now tell me they can afford to lose Simmons.
Pot, Meet Kettle
Drake Harris shocked the college recruiting world recently when he announced that he was decommitting from Michigan State. As expected, a number of people took this news not so well. One in particular, though, caught my eye (since deleted):
If this Drake Harris kid decommits from MSU and goes to #scUM he better keep his ass out of East Lansing. #chump
~Brian Linthicum (@B_Linthicum88)
Okay, dumbass 14-year-olds and random unbalanced folks I can understand. They don’t see these recruits as human beings, but rather as abstract star-ratings on a recruiting board. What I can’t understand is a former football player not “getting it.” He’s been through this process. He knows what it’s like to not be sure about your school choice. And do you know how I know that? BECAUSE BRIAN LINTHICUM TRANSFERED SCHOOLS AFTER HIS FRESHMAN YEAR. He started at Clemson, but then transferred to Michigan State. And now Drake Harris is a “chump” because he chose one school and then changed his mind?
Well There’s Your Problem
The Battle Creek Revolution, a Junior A team in the NA3HL, did not have a good year. They finished 7-38-1-2 and were outscored by about a billion goals (by my read of the stats, they gave up more GOALS than their team had POINTS. That’s… yowza). Well, the team’s official Twitter account wants you to know why:
Now, this is Junior A hockey. And it’s hockey. Of course the players are getting drunk and high. But could a team really get 7-38 high? How much weed do you have to smoke as a team to rack up a –571? There’s “hung over,” and then there’s “started 0-25 hung over.”
Weekly Jose Canseco Update
I’d say something, but I’m afraid Canseco would drive to my house.