Huber Heights (OH) Wayne defensive back Tyree Kinnel waited a while for Michigan offer; though the Wolverines began looking at him during his freshman season, Kinnel went without one through several campus visits and even Michigan's technique camp this summer. After an outstanding performance at Ohio State's Friday Night Lights camp last month, Kinnel finally received the offer he coveted, and today he became Michigan's sixth commit in the 2015 class and their second in two days following Shaun Crawford's pledge yesterday.
4*, #24 CB,
|NR CB||3*, NR S||4*, 90, #18 S||
4*, #20 S,
Rivals still hasn't released 2015 rankings; the other three sites are split on both Kinnel's talent and his future position. Scout likes him as a cornerback and puts him well within their top 300; 247 pegs him as a safety and has him just outside their Top 247 (the #16 safety is #241 overall); ESPN also has him as a safety and gives him a three-star rating.
Scout lists Kinnel at 5'11", 170 lbs., ESPN at 5'11", 183, and both Rivals and 247 have him pegged at 6'0", 190; he's got the size to play either safety or corner. According to multiple reports, Michigan recruited Kinnel as a safety; Ohio State was looking at him as a bigger corner, and with the Wolverines looking for similar attributes from their cornerbacks it's possible he could end up there as well.
Although Kinnel has started at Wayne since his freshman year, there's surprisingly little scouting material on him from anything aside from last month's Friday Night Lights camp. Since that's the most recent look at him, we might as well start there; here's Scout's Dave Berk on Kinnel's FNL performance ($):
Damon Webb would be hard to knock as the top defensive back at Friday Night Lights, but Kinnel was extremely impressive in coverage. Much like he stated, I agree that he can play either safety or cornerback at the next level, and that will all sort itself out over the next two years of high school football. Kinnel is a bigger corner, and college programs love this size out on an island. He is one of Ohio's top 2015 prospects, and he certainly raised his stock with his performance at Friday Night Lights.
Rivals's Josh Helmholdt delves into more detail about Kinnel's coverage skills ($):
The 6-foot, 190-pound Kinnel appears headed for the safety position in college, but he has excelled this summer in camp settings where he is asked to cover like a cornerback. His best attribute at this stage is his break on the football, but the rising junior also shows fluid hips and the speed to cover downfield. He is thickly built and has the frame of a future college safety, but his coverage skills may allow him to play anywhere in the defensive backfield at the next level.
Like Berk, Helmholdt had Kinnel behind only Damon Webb among defensive backs at FNL.
One more bit from FNL from Rivals Ohio analyst Marc Givler ($):
Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne defensive back Tyree Kinnel continues to turn in special performances on the camp circuit and was outstanding once again showing the size and strength of a free safety but the cover skills of a corner. It won't be long until Kinnel is a 20 offer kid.
Kinnel's excellent performance in one-on-one WR/DB drills at FNL—a true test of a defensive back's man coverage ability in a drill that favors the receiver—negates the only negative from ESPN's evaluation that isn't the usual call to add bulk that applies to just about every high school prospect:
STRENGTHS: A savvy player with good instincts and vision. Shows good playing speed and strength. A playmaker in defending both the run and pass. Excellent in zone coverage reading the QB's eyes and making a break on the football. ... AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT: Will benefit from adding bulk to his frame. Lacks experience in laying [sic] man to man coverage. ... BOTTOM LINE: Kinnel is a solid all-around safety that does many things well. Shows the potential to be productive in man coverage with good physical tools.
ESPN gave Kinnel a three-star rating and has yet to give a specific grade or include him in their position ratings, so I don't think they're done evaluating him; then again, this is fire-and-forget ESPN we're talking about, so who knows.
Here's Berk again from a Sam Webb feature in the Detroit News pointing out an important area for improvement:
“I project him as a safety with solid ball skills,” said Berk. “At the same time he is aggressive, has good strength, and is able to support the run extremely well. He needs to work on better tackling technique, but overall he has got all the skills that you’d see in a top level safety at the next level.”
Considering Kinnel has shown a willingness to come up in run support and be effective in doing so, and he's got two more season of high school ball before he gets to Michigan—where he'll be coached up even more on technique—this isn't something I find particularly concerning.
Steve Lorenz caught up with Kinnel's high school position coach after his commitment to get a few more details about his game, specifically his advanced knowledge of football for a rising junior ($):
"He's a person who is still learning the game, but you don't get a player like Tyree very often," Powell said. "He has the size and speed, but he has something that you can't teach a lot of players: he has the instincts to see things before or as they are happening. This gives him the ability to make reads quicker and make plays. He knows how to disguise coverages and he knows how to read opposing offenses. As his position coach, I've given Tyree the permission to call audibles on our coverage. This off-season he really improved in that aspect and can pick up the tendencies of a quarterback with relative ease. He's ahead of his age in terms of understanding the game. The other intangible he has that I really admire about him is his passion and love for the game itself. He's a young man who goes out every day and works his tail off."
Powell also said he expects Kinnel to be named captain, a high honor for a junior, and relayed a story from a recent intrasquad scrimmage in which Kinnel, disappointed with the play of the defense, actually ordered the first team off the field and brought the second team on with the full approval of the coaching staff. Again, The Pattern™ emerges.
Kinnel had offers from Arkansas and Kentucky when he made his commitment, as well as interest from Michigan State, Ohio State, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
Huber Heights Wayne is a solid program in Ohio's Division I, making it to the state championship game (and losing, unfortunately) in 1999 and 2010. Their most notable football prospect is current Ohio State QB Braxton Miller; the school also produced former Wolverines Terrence and Terry Talbott, both of whom had injuries cut their college careers short.
Cincinnati.com has a game-by-game breakdown of Kinnel's sophomore season, in which he recorded 30 solo tackles, a fumble recovery, and two interceptions.
FAKE 40 TIME
247 lists a 40 time of 4.40; this has the look of a self-reported time and I can't find any electronically-timed combine figures, so this gets a solid four FAKEs out of five. While I don't doubt Kinnel's speed, 4.4-flat is an elite time for a college player, let alone a high school junior.
As usual, more highlights and individual game cut-ups are available at Kinnel's Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
If Kinnel, as expected, ends up at safety he'll have the opportunity to compete for playing time at a relatively early juncture. When he arrives in 2015, Michigan will have a senior Jarrod Wilson and juniors Dymonte Thomas, Delano Hill, and Jeremy Clark on the roster, plus a 2014 recruit (Montae Nicholson is currently the top candidate to fill the open safety spot in the class; Erick Smith and JuJu Smith are other, less likely options). That should afford Kinnel a redshirt year and then a one-year apprenticeship as a backup before he competes for a starting job; unless Michigan decides to move one of their young corners to safety, he's got a relatively clear path to playing time.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Slightly edited from yesterday's Hello post:
With a very small projected class and plenty of depth in place, the Wolverines would likely take just one more defensive back—NJ CB Minkah Fitzpatrick is a top national target who's shown some interest in Michigan, and five-star CA CB Iman Marshall has an offer in hand, though he's a longshot. [EDIT: I should also mention four-star MI ATH Brian Cole, who projects to corner and is strongly considering both Michigan and Michigan State—the Spartans may actually be the team to beat for him; he's still a more realistic option than Fitzpatrick or Marshall at this juncture.]
Kinnel is Michigan's sixth commit in the '15 class (seventh if you count grayshirt DT Brady Pallante); that group may only expand to 15-17 signees, so Michigan will be very selective about whom they offer. Top priorities include quarterback, at least one more offensive lineman, defensive end, and outside linebacker.
Pull up the NCAA official stats and Michigan’s red zone efficiency looks great, ranking third with scores on 93% of trips. Brendan Gibbons had a lot to do with that as Michigan connected on 14 field goals in 46 trips. But as tends to happen in these situations, the truth is much more complicated the NCAA would have you believe.
After the concept of fumble luck, 3 <> 7 may be the second statistical pillar of MGoBlog. The NCAA’s stat does not believe what we believe. Their rankings are based on a simple equation:
[Times scoring in the Red Zone]
[Trips to the Red Zone]
For the NCAA 3=7. An equally simple measure that has been strangely ignored is Points Per Trip (PPT). By that measure (and taking out meaningless second half trips and games against FCS teams), Michigan drops to 44th at 5.2 PPT in 36 qualifying trips.
Red zone Efficiency is a very easy stat to overreact to. The sample size is small and a couple of fluky plays can swing the ranking either way. When you expand the study beyond the end result of the trip and look at the 110 individual plays that comprised Michigan’s 2012 red zone offense, there is at least a little more sturdy basis for evaluation, although the smaller the sample set, the more likely there is a large piece of luck involved in any outputs, whether positive or negative.
Second Down was not our Down, and Other Findings
To evaluate each play I looked at the touchdown percentage for drives at each possible possible down, distance and yardline from inside the 20. Every play either makes the offense more or less likely to score a touchdown on the drive. A first and goal from the 1 yard line results in a touchdown on the drive 91.4% of the time, therefore a touchdown is worth 8.6%. Second and goal from the 1 results in a touchdown 87.3% of the time so getting stopped on first down is worth –4.1%. Each play is evaluated based on its impact to Michigan’s chances of scoring a touchdown on the drive. Even though the odds of a field goal dropped slightly as you move back within the 20, for this study I just wanted to focus on the effect on potential touchdowns.
Michigan ran 43 first down plays on their qualifying red zone trips last season and put themselves in a situation more likely to result in a touchdown on 47% of them. Even though their plays were slightly more likely to be negative than positive, the positive plays had a higher magnitude, resulting in a net positive of about 52%, or half of a touchdown.
Second down was where the problems started. Michigan ran 39 qualifying second down plays in the red zone and only 14 of them bettered their chances of reaching the end zone. Michigan finished at –221% on second down, a loss of over two touchdowns due to poor second down performance.
Michigan actually held up well on second down rushes, improving their odds on 12 of 23 second down rushes. The problems were centered around second down passing. After the Robinson to Gardner touchdown on the first 2nd down red zone pass of the season, Michigan went 0-9 with 2 sacks on the next 11 pass plays. Michigan quarterbacks locked into Devin Funchess and Jeremy Gallon in these ill-fated situations as the were targeted on 7 of the 9 incompletions. The incredibly surprising play action was not the only issue, only 2 plays were noted as play action in the UFR’s and another 3 were listed as waggle or rollout, but one of those was the initial touchdown.
Where Michigan struggled on second down they excelled on third down. Michigan got a first down or touchdown on 16 of 28 third down plays and reversed their second down loss with a +324% change in their touchdown odds on third and fourth down. Michigan’s binary down success was largely driven via the pass but the situation greatly changed when Devin Gardner came on for Denard Robinson. Denard was 1-5 with a sack on third down while Devin Gardner went 5-5 (all for first downs or touchdowns) with a sack. Where the second down plays were focused on two different players, Gardner third down passes were to 4 different players on the five completions.
Gardner’s third down prowess continued on the ground with a +122% rating on five third down red zone carries. The lack of confidence in the traditional running game around the goal line was evident as only 4 of 13 red zone carries on third and fourth downs were taken by running backs. Toussaint and Vincent Smith both went 1/2 on their attempts.
Devin Gardner Devin Gardner Devin Gardner
So Devin Gardner was pretty good in the red zone. Over all plays he was +432%, or over 4 touchdowns added over the course of the season. In fact, Gardner’s success was probably unsustainably good. I don’t have touchdown’s added for all players, but if you look at pure points added in the red zone, Gardner’s five game red zone average was the second best season ever to Tim Tebow’s 2007 Heisman season. Gardner is really good in the red zone but it is going to be very tough to sustain this level for a full season, only one player ever has.
But what about the other Wolverines?
The only other Michigan player to finish with a positive number was Justice Hayes, by a hair. Hayes’ singular red zone carry against South Carolina netted him a 2% increase. Among the other running backs, Thomas Rawls was –12%, Vincent Smith was –66% (although he was actually the most valuable receiver) and Fitzgerald Toussaint was –117%. All three were making positive plays less than 50% of the time.
Denard finished with a slightly negative red zone contribution for the season, with –39% but on a team low 39% positive ratio. As mimicked by his career, Denard showcased a lot of valuable game changing plays in the red zone, but struggled with consistency. In the end, his 2012 red zone negatives outweighed his positives.
On the receiving side, targets of Vincent Smith, Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo and Devin Funchess all finished on the positive side while Roy Roundtree was the sole receiving target to end with a negative rating with pair of 3rd and Goal targets from the 7 falling incomplete.
What It Could Mean for 2013
As noted above, red zone efficiency is fickle stat and can easily swing. With that said, based on small sample size splits, here are some pros and cons heading into the season.
- Keep taking care of the ball, no QB interceptions or RB fumbles in the red zone is a great streak to keep up
- Even with rocket-shoes Gallon and The Funchise, Michigan was at their best when spreading the ball around
- Devin Gardner will probably not be as good in the red zone as he was last year but his success was strong enough that it was more than just sample size
- Stay aggressive and hopefully the third down success can hold, but hopefully more trips can be resolved before then
- Fix second down passing, 1-10 with 2 sacks, was really ugly
- Need contributions from the running backs in the run game. Too many trips were dependent on Gardner/Robinson bailing the offense out.
The two biggest things that seem like more than just fluky outcomes of limited play counts are the success of Devin Gardner in the red zone in both running and passing and the failures passing the ball on 2nd down. Some of this is due to the incredibly surprising play action, 5 of the 12 UFR’d plays where listed as PA, rollout or waggle, but the other six plays weren’t any better.
At this point I have no clue how to keep my expectations for Devin Gardner on earth. There are lots of sample size issues with only five games under his belt but those were five pretty spectacular five games from him and he was at his best in the highest leverage situations. I don’t think he can do it for a whole season and hopefully the defense and running game mean he doesn’t have to, but man, that guy made a lot of plays last year.
As expected, Lakewood (OH) St. Edward cornerback Shaun Crawford announced his commitment to Michigan via a live stream on ESPN's Recruiting Nation, choosing the Wolverines over fellow finalists Florida State, Miami (FL), and Tennessee. Crawford is the first defensive back and fifth prospect overall to commit to Brady Hoke's 2015 class.
4*, #10 CB,
4*, 83, #5 ATH,
4*, 91, #17 CB,
4*, #9 CB,
Of the three services that have released 2015 rankings, ESPN is the most bullish on Crawford, and all are in agreement that he's a solid four-star who easily makes their top-n lists. Rivals is the lone site that hasn't unveiled 2015 rankings; their Ohio state recruiting analyst, Marc Givler, gives us an idea of where Crawford might be end up there:
@FergodsakesUofM He is my No. 3 junior in the state of Ohio.
— Marc Givler (@MarcGivlerBG) August 21, 2013
ESPN also has Crawford as the third-ranked junior in Ohio; if Givler's opinion holds, Crawford should end up ranked in the #50-overall range on Rivals.
Crawford's size has been and will be a topic of much discussion, especially given Michigan's recent proclivity for recruiting big cornerbacks; all four sites list him at a diminutive 5'9" and 165-175 pounds. Most corners that size have issues playing man-up on larger receivers and holding up in run support. With Crawford, the latter part, at least, is not an issue...
...because his highlight tape is essentially eight minutes of this:
Crawford can bring the wood and he's got the play recognition ability to make a big impact in the run game and defending the flats. But don't take it from me. Take it from everyone else. Here's Givler again after taking in a St. Edward scrimmage last week:
Shaun Crawford is as good in run support as any corner I've seen come out of Ohio the last few years.
— Marc Givler (@MarcGivlerBG) August 17, 2013
Rivals analyst Josh Helmholdt after watching St. Edward in a game last fall ($):
Shaun Crawford, ATH, Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward (2015): The 5-foot-9, 165-pound Crawford plays both wide receiver and nickel cornerback, but I listed him with the defense because that is where he was most effective. Crawford had a few drops on offense, but he is an outstanding open-field tackler on defense.
Crawford on Crawford ($):
Playing as a sophomore at St. Ed's is not exactly a common thing and making an impact on both sides of the ball as a sophomore is even more uncommon. So where does Crawford like playing the most?
"I like playing corner the best," he said. "I just like hitting people."
You get the point.
Of course, tackling is but one small part of playing cornerback — the whole covering receivers part is a pretty big deal. Bucknuts's Duane Long ranked Crawford as his #8 rising junior in Ohio, and the writeup makes it sound like he probably should've been higher on the list ($):
8. Shaun Crawford, Athlete, Lakewood St. Edward: As much as it pains me to rank a Michigan lean in my top 10, Crawford is too good to ignore. He has all the tools. He is the best cover corner in Ohio regardless of class but I have a hard time placing a player with this much game-breaking ability on defense. Crawford is just as impressive on offense. Crawford has the hips and feet to be an elite cover corner but he is such a fine tackler he could be a safety. His speed is something special.
Someone is going to get a great player whether he plays offense or defense. Right now it looks like Michigan. An offer might help the situation. He was supposed to be a huge Michigan lean and has an offer. What is he waiting on? Maybe we have it wrong. Maybe we are looking at an Ohio kid being brought up to speed on life after football for someone who intends to return to Ohio. We will see. Love to see this one in Scarlet and Gray.
Yes, that second paragraph is particularly delicious.
Crawford's cover skills are bolstered by his top-notch speed; he was regarded as a big-time track prospect before he even got to high school and has since posted electronic times of 10.80 seconds in the 100-meter dash and 21.80 in the 200. Between his speed and willingness to throw his body around, Crawford's dispelled many of the concerns about his height, as evidenced by this quote from Scout's Bill Greene:
Said Greene, “That’s the only drawback (to his game) -- his height. But it doesn’t bother me because I’ve seen him play live and he is a great football player.
“His speed is amazing, but he’s got hips so he can turn and run. If he does false-step or get beat, he’s got lighting speed to catch up. And he will come up and hit people. There is no worry about if he can tackle coming up from the corner spot because he comes up and hits people. So he is a great athlete and a great kid. He comes from a great family, he is unbelievable in the classroom (and) he is a leader. There is nothing not to like about Shaun Crawford.”
Run support: check. Cover skills: check. Track-star speed: check. Fits The Pattern™: check.
Greene added in the same article that "[i]f he was 6-1 he would probably the top cornerback in America," and noted that Crawford plays against some of the best high school competition in the country at St. Edward. Crawford's height may hold him back a little against taller college receivers, though it seems that it'll be more of an issue for NFL scouts; he's an elite talent with a skill-set that covers for his lone apparent shortcoming.
Crawford held offers from Arkansas, Cincinnati, Florida State, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Miami (YTM), Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Ohio State and Notre Dame both showed interest but didn't offer prior to his commitment, much to the dismay of Duane Long in the former case.
Lakewood St. Edward is one of the top programs in Ohio's Division I, producing a number of top recruits in recent years and winning the state title in 2010. Notable former prospects include five-star Michigan guard Kyle Kalis (2012), five-star Ohio State tackle Alex Boone (2005), four-star Ohio State safety Nate Oliver (2007), four-star Northwestern defensive tackle Nate Kuhar (2012), four-star Iowa safety Diauntae Morrow (2007), and a long list of three-stars that contains former Michigan target and 2012 Oklahoma signee TE Sam Grant.
According to 247, Crawford recorded 66 tackles (three for loss), a sack, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in his sophomore season. He also netted 438 yards and five touchdowns on 24 catches as a receiver.
FAKE 40 TIME
Crawford ran a laser-timed 4.51 40 at February's Nike Combine in Massillon, a very impressive figure that gets zero FAKEs out of five. He posted a 37.4-inch vertial leap at the same combine; that leaping ability should help him in defending taller pass-catchers.
Sophomore highlights courtesy of ScoutingOhio:
Here's video of last weekend's scrimmage courtesy of OhioPreps — Crawford appears with big hits on the two plays beginning at the :55 mark, a short touchdown catch at the 2:30 mark, consecutive TFLs at the 3:13 mark, and another huge hit at the 4:00 mark. Not bad for a day's work:
More clips, including individual game highlights, are available at Crawford's Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Despite his size, Crawford is an ideal candidate to play boundary corner. He's got the speed and cover skills to match up with outside receivers and more than enough tackling ability to hold up on the edge. Much like Michigan is doing with Dymonte Thomas this year — and may do again next year with Jabrill Peppers — the coaches could also give Crawford a first-year internship at nickel if he's ready to see the field that early before moving him to the outside.
When Crawford arrives on campus, Michigan will have a senior Blake Countess, a junior Terry Richardson, this year's freshman crop of Reon Dawson, Ross Douglas, Jourdan Lewis, and Channing Stribling, and of course 2014 commits Jabrill Peppers and Brandon Watson. That's a lot of older players to pass on the depth chart, though if Crawford continues to develop it could be tough to keep him off the field regardless. I really like his game and expect him to be a multi-year starter.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan has one defensive back in the fold for 2015 and could very well add another tomorrow in Tyree Kinnel, a 3.5-star safety prospect who could also project as a bigger cornerback. With a very small projected class and plenty of depth in place, the Wolverines would likely take just one more defensive back — NJ CB Minkah Fitzpatrick is a top national target who's shown some interest in Michigan, and five-star CA CB Iman Marshall has an offer in hand, though he's a longshot.
Crawford is Michigan's fifth commit in the '15 class (sixth if you count grayshirt DT Brady Pallante); that group may only expand to 15-17 signees, so Michigan will be very selective about whom they offer. Top priorities include quarterback, at least one more offensive lineman, defensive end, and outside linebacker.
CAN THEY ZOOM THIS THING ANY MORE? For pants' sake. Devin Gardner takes a shotgun snap and the only other guy in the frame is Justice Hayes. I think this is negatively affecting camera guy in games—the replays in Michigan Stadium are invariably pore-o-vision, too.
Jack Miller's hand is not broken. The video of Tom Brady's speech featured a guy saying "his left is broken" right at the end, and people thought it was Miller, and now there is an e-rumor to that effect. Obviously that is not the case. The MGoStaff has looked at the back of a lot of heads and we're pretty sure that's Tom Strobel, the redshirt freshman three-tech.
Lewan was held out. The line on the first snap is Schofield-Glasgow-Miller-Kalis-Magnuson, and Lewan makes no appearance. Since the line is completely out of many shots it's hard to tell anything definitive about who's playing, but if Chris Bryant is pressing to start, where is Chris Bryant? He does get in on at least one snap here, FWIW, but if we're going by the scraps in these videos it looks like Glasgow is the leader.
I assume they also held Gallon and Fitz out for obvious reasons.
Wormley looking good. On one snap sure, but he beats Magnuson to the inside on a Justice Hayes carry.
Justice Hayes sure seems like your third down back. There have been few shotgun snaps in either of these that don't feature Hayes next to Gardner. There is a small chance it's actually Fitz and he's being held out because he doesn't need to prove anything, but with the Green injury and Toussaint obtaining a death lock on the starting job, Hayes is in a good spot to take snaps away.
Hey: Shane Morris. Man that hoser can hose. Throwing rope after rope, though dollars to donuts this video elides three terrible interceptions.
Hey: Channing Stribling. Gardner almost throws an ugly pick to Stribling. Stribling dives to break up a dig route. Stribling tackles Chesson after a hitch. Stribling breaks up a well-thrown fly route to Chesson.
Also, Hollowell is all over Da'Mario Jones.
Hey: De'Veon Smith. Flashes shades of that high school tape when he spins through three guys on his single carry and then drags Jourdan Lewis on his back for five or six more.
Also, Green makes a slick cut to the backside of a power play and runs through an arm tackle. His single carry looked a lot better than his single carry in the other video. #samplesize
Apparently Drake Johnson is now #20. This was news to me.
Slow-mo Reynolds catch is pretty good. First, Morris moves around the pocket like a pro before unleashing a rope, then the DB (never see a number) is a fingertip away from a PBU and may actually get a deflection, then Reynolds makes a diving catch.
- Shane Morris is the backup QB.
- No decision on center or left guard yet, where Jack Miller, Graham Glasgow, and Chris Bryant are playing musical chairs.
- Michigan has a lot of receivers whose first names start with the letter "J."
- Matt Wile will handle all kicking duties other than regular field goals and PATs.
- Norfleet is the kick returner. Norfleet will probably be the punt returner. Norfleet4Life.
"We have nine games before we open up and Team 134 gets an opportunity for their first impression. I think we've had a very good camp. We have two days left of camp, and tomorrow we'll start looking more at Central Michigan, scout teams, look teams, that sort of thing. The coaches have already been breaking down that opponent in the summer. Really the last couple days, [we'll be] getting back to it a little more at the stadium, [run] about the half the number of plays of Saturday's scrimmage. I thought we came out, played hard. I think we'll get some answers on some rotations or spots, if you want to call them that as we look at the tape tonight and keep evaluating through the end of camp."
John Bacon's latest book Fourth and Long is a look at four Big Ten teams in various places as the 2012 season progresses: Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Northwestern. While the Penn State stuff is unbelievably compelling, Bacon also touches on the increasing commercialization of the game—a hot button topic here—in multiple sections, including Michigan.
The following is an account of what went down during the Great Band Fiasco Of 2012. If you desire a look at the Northwestern and Ohio State sections, Sippin' On Purple and Eleven Warriors both have excerpts today.
On Friday morning, April 20, 2012, while I watched workers set up the stage for the groundbreaking ceremony for Penn State’s $104 million hockey arena the day before their football team’s spring game, I took my weekly call from Ann Arbor’s local sports-talk station, WTKA.
This being six days after Michigan’s spring scrimmage, I assumed the morning hosts would ask me how Michigan’s second-year coaches, who favored a pro-set offense, were meshing with soon-to-be senior Denard Robinson, the consummate spread-offense quarterback. So I was a little surprised when Ira Weintraub and Sam Webb asked me about the Michigan-Alabama game, scheduled more than four months away, on September 1 in Dallas.
It was already being hyped as a clash between two tradition-rich programs, both ranked in the preseason Top 10, and two tradition-rich conferences. But it was bigger than that, because the schools had struck a deal with the Dallas Cowboys’ celebrity owner, Jerry Jones, to play the game in his shiny, new, $1.15 billion, state-of-the-art pleasure dome, nicknamed Jerry World.
They called the game the Cowboy Classic, a four-year-old version of the former Kickoff Classic, and it had come to represent the apotheosis— or nadir, depending on your view—of all that modern college football was becoming: the colossal, professional stadium; the seemingly endless corporate tie-ins; and the orgy of interest in a game between amateur athletes.
Although Michigan did not sell out its allotment of 17,500 tickets for the Sugar Bowl a couple months earlier, the athletic department had no trouble selling all 25,000 tickets for the Cowboy Classic, before they could even offer them to the general public. They were gobbled up entirely by Victors Club members: first to those with the most “priority points” (which they accumulate largely through donations), down to those with just one priority point. Thousands of fans with no priority points got shut out.
It was all the more impressive because the tickets for the Cowboy Classic weren’t cheap: $125 for a seat in the rafters and $285 for one on the 50, plus $80 for parking across the street. Jerry World also offered standing-room-only tickets, which one website packaged with vouchers for a beverage, a hot dog, and a bag of chips for $89—and sold more than twenty-three hundred of them.
“Let’s put it like this,” the ever-quotable Jerry Jones said the week of the game. “I’m going to compare it even to the Super Bowl. They’re two different events—but this is the hottest ticket . . . of any game or any event that we’ve had at that stadium.”
Michigan would net $4.7 million for the Cowboy Classic matchup with Alabama, the highest payout ever for a Kickoff Classic/Cowboy Classic season opener. After the department publicized that fact, fans were surprised to hear athletic director Dave Brandon announce he would not be sending the Michigan Marching Band to the game because the athletic department couldn’t afford the $400,000 travel expense. That decision lit up sports-talk shows across the state.
This seemingly simple decision to leave the band at home raised an equally simple question: How important is the marching band to the fans?
A few weeks before Brandon’s announcement, he sent band director Scott Boerma an RFP, or a “request for proposal,” which is how CEOs ask for a sales pitch. Brandon told Boerma to put together a page of bullet points explaining why Boerma thought it would be better for the band to fly to Dallas for the season opener against Alabama, on September 1.
“We did so,” Boerma told me, “and we turned it in. We never expected Brandon to fly us down, but we hoped. At that point, it was my assumption that we would have a conversation about those bullet points, most likely making compromises on both sides. But a few days later, we heard that the answer was simply no. And that was it.”
Ann Arbor Torch And Pitchfork
Boerma and his band were stunned, but not as much as their loyal following, who blasted the decision through just about every medium available. For a week in late April, the band’s fate dominated Ann Arbor sports-talk radio—a first, to be sure. Invective aside, the callers’ main complaint was that if Brandon eliminated a home game or the possibility of an attractive home-and-home against Alabama for the chance to play in Jerry World primarily for the record paycheck, as he stated, then why couldn’t Michigan afford the $400,000 it would cost to take the marching band? After all, the band had to be one of the main attractions of college football Jerry Jones surely expected when he invited two college teams to play in his pleasure dome.
There seem to be a few reasons behind Brandon’s initial decision. A $4.7 million payday sounds like a lot, but according to MGoBlog’s Brian Cook, it was actually about $300,000 less than Michigan would have made if Brandon had scheduled Alabama for a home-and-home series, on the same terms Michigan had with Notre Dame. The deal looks even worse when you take into account the team’s travel costs to Dallas, and the substantial revenue from parking and concessions Michigan would have kept for a home game—not to mention the excitement such a game would generate among season-ticket holders from the day it was announced. Cook concludes, “This supposed financial windfall simply does not exist.” [Ed: the department would later cop to this fact.]
But if you looked at Brandon’s initial decision to leave the band behind purely from a short-term business perspective, it made sense. The band trip would cost real money, coming right off the bottom line, but would not necessarily influence the outcome or ticket sales or TV ratings. Fans would not wait in long lines to buy Michigan Marching Band uniforms—be they classic or “alternative”—and EA Sports was not champing at the bit to put Michigan’s drum major on the cover of its next marching-band video game.
If you bring it back to the simple question of keeping your fans happy, however, Brandon’s decision was as foolhardy as the CEO of Cracker Jack eliminating the prizes at the bottom of the boxes because, hey, you can’t eat them, and those things cost money. If there is one symbol of college football that distinguishes the irrational, romantic notions fans feel for their favorite sport from the streamlined sensibilities of the pro game, the marching band might be the best place to start. When the band plays, the students feel connected to their parents, and their parents feel connected to their past, traveling back in time to their college days.
It is the prize at the bottom of the box.
Shortly after Bill Martin became athletic director in 2000, he commissioned a survey titled “Fans Speak Out on Game Day Experience,” by his good friend, Republican pollster Bob Teeter. The response rate alone told them how passionate Michigan fans were about their team. While most consumer surveys attract a 6 to 8 percent rate of return, fully 64 percent of the three thousand Michigan fans randomly selected responded—or about ten times the average.
When these season-ticket holders were asked to rank the importance of twenty-three aspects of the game-day experience, the survey readers weren’t too shocked to find seat location atop the list, with 88 percent of respondents ranking it “important.” But the marching band finished a close fourth, with 83 percent, two places ahead of the final score, and four ahead of the quality of the opponent. Thus, whether the Wolverines won or lost, or which team they were playing—in other words, the football game—was less important to the fans than seeing the marching band. After all, the band remained undefeated.
Brandon took some hits for his decision from fans, who flooded his e-mail account, but donors soon stepped up to cover half the $400,000 tab, leading some to believe the whole incident was a ruse to get someone else to pay the bill. But UM’s band director at the time, Scott Boerma, wasn’t buying it. “I do not think he planned on the backlash,” Boerma told me, “nor do I think it was some clever way to get donors to pony up for it. Dave was genuinely surprised.”
After Brandon finally capitulated, he told the Detroit Economic Club in August that it was all a “misunderstanding,” akin to a “family squabble.” He said he had agreed from the outset to fund the $100,000 necessary for the band to take buses down to Dallas, allowing them to play concerts along the way."
“The band changed their mind,” Brandon said. “They decided they didn’t want to be in buses and they didn’t want to play their way to Dallas, and they came and said, ‘We’re planning on coming to Dallas, everybody’s planning on coming to Dallas, but we’re not going to ride in buses—we’re going to fly in a jumbo jet and here’s what it’s going to cost.’”
But Boerma recalls the dialogue differently. “I think it’s important for people to know that we never ‘changed our mind.’ We never agreed to busing down and playing gigs along the way. We offered to look into that possibility, but when we did, we determined that it really wouldn’t be best for all concerned, especially because it would be the weekend before classes started, and we would lose several days of our pre-season rehearsals, when we prepare for the entire fall ahead. We never refused to bus down, as Brandon said. We were never given the opportunity to refuse anything, because there was no follow-up conversation.
“When it all hit the fan, I made sure that it wasn’t the band students and staff causing a commotion. We just laid low and waited for it all to work out. If the decision to not take the band down remained intact, we would have been fine with that. It was Brandon’s decision; he was paying the bills, and that’s his business.”
Of course, some fans angered over the decision included big donors, who ultimately stepped up to cover half the cost of the band’s trip.
"The band is coming to Dallas," Brandon told his audience. "And I hope you enjoy every note."
Leaving the band behind for a big game proved not to be an option—at least in 2012.
As the arms race escalates, Brandon does not seem terribly interested in slowing down to ponder it all. He is too busy pressing full steam ahead. “I don’t talk the past,” he said several times in his first year as Michigan’s athletic director. “I create the future.”
He might just be right.
If the future of Penn State was in the hands of its players, and Ohio State in the hands of its new head coach, Michigan’s was in the hands of its new athletic director.