"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
right: Will Moeller/Daily
Nine months ago Michigan fans were suspicious of both of their West Virginia coaching heists. Today one is sitting next to Billy Packer and Jason Whitlock in a suit; the other is a season away from establishing himself for the long haul. Both undertook program-changing measures after a disappointing start, but only one successfully delegated his way to success.
You know who is who. Rich Rodriguez:
- fired Scott Shafer after one year as defensive coordinator,
- hired retread Greg Robinson, and
- forced him to run a 3-3-5-ish defense that incorporated the 3-4 and 4-3 with freshmen everywhere.
He got the sad firing box.
- literally fired or replaced every one of his assistants,
- hired two up-and-comers from smaller schools, and
- all but abandoned the 1-3-1 defense that was his trademark at West Virginia.
If he can wring the expected improvement out of his 46% freshman usage he'll have Michigan's basketball team in the Big Ten title picture for the first time since Fisher was run out of town.
Both coaches tweaked their specialty offense for different players. Rodriguez coaxed an NCAA-average performance out of true freshman Tate Forcier by relying on his scrambling ability in the pocket and using him as a decoy in the run game. (Or at least trying to—Tate had a bad habit of keeping the ball when his read said hand off.) He improved the offense further with sophomore-who-would-have-been-redshirt-freshman-if-Michigan-had-any-options Denard Robinson. Even the Robinson offense wasn't going back to the old Pat White well. Without a Slaton to put oomph in the read and with defenses far more prepared to deal with it these days, he implemented a rushing game that revolved around the quarterback instead of using him as a "gotcha" thunderbolt. He used the QB rushing staples to implement a terrifying play-action game that often saw receivers open by ten yards.
Terrible defense put Michigan in long-field situations (Michigan led the country in TD drives of more than 85 yards), there was no field goal kicking, and the inexperienced Robinson was a turnover machine. The thing was a bit rickety. It was erratic. It put too much load on Robinson's shoulders. It was also incredibly young and promised infinity when Robinson was old enough to cut out the turnovers. It finished #2 in FEI, which you know because I say it every ten seconds.
Beilein lost his only two upperclassmen from the immensely disappointing 2009 team and returned a collection of role players and youth. He had to know his best player was a point guard who couldn't shoot to save his life. He still had a perimeter four and a spread-the-court offense, but he implemented a ton of ball screens that gave defenses a choice between open threes from guys who shoot at a 38% clip or getting pick-and-rolled to death by Morris and Jordan Morgan. Morgan shot 63% as a result and Michigan vastly exceeded expectations.
This lived up to their rep. Both were regarded as innovators. "Genius" is definitely not a word you want to throw around when you're talking about coaches but their peers seemed to regard Beilein and Rodriguez as people you want to talk to. Beilein doesn't talk but gets the most votes when his peers are asked to judge solely on coaching acumen; Rodriguez does, so he pops up at Oklahoma and his coaches get snapped up two seconds after they're let go. Carr's coaching tree is Brady Hoke and Scot Loeffler, end of story. It's tough to throw a rock in college football without hitting someone inspired by or directly associated with Rodriguez.
But he's not here because he couldn't let go. Of all the numbers associated with his tenure at Michigan this is by far the most damning:
It's the 37 next to Syracuse in the FEI defense ratings. That is a schedule-adjusted, I-AA-ignoring measure of defensive competency featuring Scott Shafer and absolutely no talent a few spots off the defenses of Michigan State and Wisconsin. Last year (Shafer's first) they were 72nd, the year before that 80th when Greg Robinson was the head coach and functional DC.
Maybe that wasn't possible here what with Never Forget…
…and all that. But we do know Shafer, a very good MAC coordinator who Harbaugh picked up and then made Syracuse better than anyone thought possible very quickly, is a good coach. And we know he was undermined and pushed out. Evidence suggests Greg Robinson is a terrible coach but he was undermined, too, and instead of a vaguely worse defense than two BCS teams coupled with Denard Robinson—good for 8-4 at least—we got something that was literally the worst ever in various categories.
Beilein had already scrapped the 1-3-1 before the total program reboot and was rewarded with an uptick in his Kenpom numbers from 67th to 53rd. It's a lot harder to tell who's responsible for what, but Beilein seemingly felt everything was insufficient and blew it all to hell. He still teaches the 1-3-1 but only uses it on occasion; he's left the defense mostly to his assistants. His reward: 35th nationally this year. That's better than his previous three years at Michigan. It's better than he ever did at West Virginia, because he knew what he didn't know.
Rodriguez's problem was never his selection of defensive coordinators, it was his refusal to trust them to do their jobs. The thing about Hoke is this: he does. At SDSU he hired Rocky Long to run a 3-3-5; Rocky Long ran a 3-3-5, and it was pretty good, and now he's the head coach. He hired Al Borges to run a passing-oriented West Coast offense; Borges ran a passing-oriented West Coast offense that wasn't quite as good as Michigan's in FEI's eyes but was still top 20. If he "gets" anything it's that he's a former defensive lineman with a narrowly defined set of assets that does not include being a genius of any variety—he's never been a coordinator. So he's hired two guys with very long, very successful resumes to do that stuff for him. That's an upgrade over Rodriguez, who had one—himself. It's an upgrade over Carr, who had zero*.
When I am trying to be cheerful in the face of Hoke's indifferent record I think about the vagaries of MAC budgets and what Hoke did the instant he escaped them. Mattison is the third excellent hire Hoke's made. That's a trend, one that suggests he, too, knows what he doesn't know. Since I'm a Michigan fan I'm bracing for a fatal flaw, but at least it won't be the same one that sunk Rich Rodriguez.
*[Ron English masterminded The Horror and does not count. Before his elevation at Michigan he had never been a coordinator. After he left he led the weak unit on the last Kragthorpe Louisville team and has started the slow process of dying at EMU. The only thing he's proven is that he can yell at several future NFL stars effectively.]
Title disclaimer: hate on Donald Rumsfeld all you want—just not here—but the bit about known knowns and known unknowns and unknown unknowns is a useful bit of language. Not intended to endorse or unendorse anything about Rumsfeld. Disclaimers uber alles.
Probably not this throwback
Three days later we can say this is probably not an April Fools joke. If you're like me you thought the announcement Michigan and Notre Dame would wear throwback uniforms for their upcoming night game (with lasers!) was a cleverly plausible April Fools joke. It is not so:
"We're going to have throwback uniforms. As they will," Kelly told the Tribune. "I can tell you what theirs look like -- They have a block 'M' on them, and a number, and a number on their helmet. How's that? The adidas [Ed:* (this means footnote)] people at Michigan are going to be (ticked) at me."
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told The Detroit News on Friday that while Michigan is working on a special uniform project for the night game with Adidas and is excited about it, nothing has yet been determined.
If I was the AD I'd tell people Michigan was going to come out in throwbacks, then make a derisive wanking motion in their direction when Michigan hit the field in the same classic uniforms they've been wearing since time began. This is one of infinite reasons why I'm not the AD.
The immediate worry is that Michigan's "throwbacks" will be throwbacks in the Ohio State sense—"this stupid-looking stormtrooper outfit has nothing at all to do with whatever we claim it does"—instead of the Lions sense—"they should wear these all the time." If we were still with Nike this would not even be a question. Our throwbacks would come with futuristic lizard scales—mascot appropriate!—and they'd make the wings on the helmet wings of flame because that's rad. Adidas might actually produce a throwback that looks reasonably like what players wore in the long long ago.
As you might expect, MVictors has a list of changes since Bo's arrival. If there's a number on the helmet we're going back to at least 1968—and who wouldn't want to commemorate 1968? BONUS: Doctor Saturday pointed out on twitter that Michigan and Notre Dame were in one of their periodic snits during the 60s and never played.
*[Back in the day when I was editing everyone's Every Three Weekly stories I bought a few usage/copyediting books. My favorite was Lapsing Into A Comma, the one written by a longtime Washington Post grammar curmudgeon. One of the things that stuck is that you are not obligated to comply with the marketing department's wishes when you are trying to write understandable English sentences. Yahoo does not have an exclamation point because that's punctuation in the middle of a fricking sentence(!). E-Trade is not E*Trade because we are not multiplying trade by 2.71 etc etc etc. Adidas is Adidas, not adidas, because it is a proper noun. Do not let marketers define the acceptable limits of language because obviously.]
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia’s new offensive coordinator and head coach in waiting, has frequently said that his entire record breaking offense can be installed “in three days.” And, now that his three days of spring practice are up, he said on day four his team will simply “start over,” and will run through this install period three or four times during the spring. Wait, what? Hasn’t Holgorsen been a part of record breaking offenses for more than a decade, including the last three (at Houston and then Oklahoma State) as head orchestrator? Doesn’t saying you can install your entire top tier Division-I men’s college football offense in three lousy days seem a little bit like, I don’t know, bullshit?
Yeah, kind of, but Chris Brown (not that Chris Brown (or that other Chris Brown inexplicably wearing a Jalen jersey)) goes on to explain that if you were going to boil down Holgorsen's philosophy in one word it would be "specialization." No one plays, or even thinks of playing, multiple positions in his offense. Receivers are X or Y or Z from the day they show up until the day they leave.
This may go against "getting the ball to your playmakers," but Holgorsen argues the ball will find them anyway. Brown:
The idea is a simple one: with limited practice time and, to be honest, limited skills, kids need to focus on a few things and to get better at them — the jack of all trades is incredibly overrated. While Urban Meyer’s Florida offense thrived for a time with Tebow and his omnipositional teammate, Percy Harvin, I’d argue that this reliance on a “Percy Position” — a guy that can play most every skill position on offense — eventually does more harm than good. I’m all for getting the ball to playmakers in different ways, but I am not — and neither is Holgorsen — a fan of doing it to the detriment of repetitions and becoming a master at your given position.
Michigan did this pretty well on offense, something best exemplified by Roy Roundtree becoming the second-leading receiver in the league as a slot receiver without a ton of wiggle. Michigan also avoided the widespread position-flopping on the offensive line that was characteristic of the late Carr era when someone went down injured.
They were beyond horrible at this on defense. A quick list of players who switched positions just last year: Cam Gordon, Thomas Gordon, Marvin Robinson, Craig Roh, Renaldo Sagesse, Adam Patterson, Ryan Van Bergen, JB Fitzgerald, Jordan Kovacs, and in one sense or another every damn player. Michigan moved from a fairly straight 4-3 under with an "okie" blitz package to a 3-3-5 to a 4-2-5 nickel back to a fairly straight 4-3 under to a 3-3-5 again, except they ran everything too and went from primarily 4-3/3-4 against MSU and Iowa to a straight 3-3-5 against PSU. It was a complete disaster that eventually undermined even what looked like an offense ready to put the throttle all the way down and probably justified Rodriguez's quick firing.
Random mental exercise: boil down other coaches' philosophy into single word.
- Lloyd Carr, Jim Tressel, Mark Dantonio: execute
- Rich Rodriguez: numbers
- Chip Kelly: pace
- Gus Mahlzahn: bewilder
- Bret Bielema: hampeople
- Danny Hope: whimper
- Pat Fitzgerald: MacGuyver
- Jerry Kill: kill (this should be Jerry Kill's philosophy in all things)
- Mike DeBord: waste
Restate position on trash talk. Good. Draymond Green:
And then to lose twice, it still bothers me. Because it’s Michigan and I hate, just, it makes them feel like they’re better than us. After them not winning at the Breslin for like 13 years, however long it was. And now they feel like this is their state. And this is Michigan State’s state. We own this state, it’s our state. And it gives them the hope and a crazy reason to think this is their state. And I completely disagree with that 100 percent.
A BRIEF LIST OF REASONS MICHIGAN'S BASKETBALL TEAM BELIEVES THEY ARE BETTER THAN MICHIGAN STATE'S BASKETBALL TEAM:
- Beat Michigan State 61-57 at Breslin
- Beat Michigan State 70-63 at Crisler
- Finished with better overall record
- Finished with better KenPom ranking
- Advanced to second round of NCAA tournament
- Came up three points short of Sweet 16 bid
- Did not start elf who bakes cookies
- Is better than Michigan State's basketball team
These reasons probably do not qualify as crazy, especially when there are zero seniors departing. (Via UMHoops)
Rankings that may or may not mean anything. Scout is the first off the mark with a top 100—actually, a top 300. Blue In Cleveland compiled players of interest. I'll whittle his whittling down to guys Michigan seems to be in the top three for:
Stefon Diggs is listed as #2 at SAFETY!, 5*,- 16th overall
Zeke Pike #3 QB, 5*, 25th overall
Jordan Diamond #9 OT, 4*, 40th overall
Sheldon Day #9 DT, 4*, 64th overall
James Ross #2 MLB, 4*, 72nd overall
Royce Jenkins-Stone #7 OLB, 4*, 105th overall
Chris Wormley #13 DE, 4*, 112th overall
Danny O'Brien #14 DT, 4*, 131st overall
Ron Thompson #5 TE, 4*, 137th overall
Terry Richardson #8 CB, 4*, 139th overall
Kaleb Ringer #8 MLB, 4*, 206th overall
The two OL commits picked up three-star rankings, which whatever. They're OL. Even final rankings for them are wobbly; these are hardly extant. Matt Godin landed just outside the top 300, FWIW.
As I said when Hoke was hired, he's got a combination of a great in-state class, several out-of-state guys who were Michigan leans from birth (Diamond, Wormley, Day), and a strong Ohio class in a year where OSU is light on scholarships. That was before all this Tressel whatnot went down. Hop out to a good start and hold on to it and he could bring in a much-needed shot in the arm.
It just keeps going until the day it stops. More Ohio State WTF:
Ohio State officials were aware Jim Tressel had forwarded sensitive emails to quarterback Terrelle Pryor's mentor in Jeanette, Pa. during an initial March 8 press conference ….
During that original press conference, Tressel was asked by Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel specifically if the coach had forwarded the emails to anyone else. Tressel seemed to answer yes but he was interrupted by AD Gene Smith who said that information was part of the investigation. It is not clear how far back that Ohio State officials knew about the additional concealment of the Sarniak information.
Smug popcorn consumption image macro goes here.
Etc.: Also in that UMHoops post: Glenn Robinson III picks up a couple positive reviews in early AAU action and Michigan is still getting mentioned for 6'6" German PG(!) Patrick Heckmann. Now we get to speculate about Max Bielfeldt's loaded family paying his way instead of Illinois fans. More realistically, he would be an option if Darius Morris enters the draft. MGoBlue practice videos up the music drama. Zoltan's working at a private equity firm during this whole lockout business. Hockey commits Tyler Motte and Evan Allen score all three goals in a Honeybaked win over Shattuck for a U16 national tourney title. Charlie Sheen's Detroit appearance… not so good.
We're already a few weeks away from the spring game and recruiting is in full swing. With two commitments under their belt the coaches are expecting a few more to come in before or during the spring game. Here's a look at a few visit reactions, upcoming visits, and general notes.
6'5", 228 lbs.
North Canton, Ohio
Appleby has been making his rounds across the country for unofficial visits. He took a trip out to Florida to see the Gators and then made his way up to Ann Arbor.
I wasn't offered on this trip, but we sat down with the coaches and they told me what they want out of me to get that offer. They said they want to see me at their camp and based off of that we'll talk about an offer. They told me that they've seen my film and that they really like me but they want me to camp before they offer.
Normally when you hear that from a prospect it's not good news. However, Appleby has the talent to eventually get an offer depending on what happens with Zeke Pike and Maty Mauk. The fact that Michigan hasn't offered isn't discouraging him.
With Coach Hoke we were just building the relationship and he told me they definitely think I'm a D1 quarterback. It's a challenge to me because I have all the confidence in myself and I'm excited to prove what I know I can do.
Austin got the full treatment from the coaches and felt that he got a good idea of who the new Michigan coaches are.
We met with the coaches and Coach Singletary. We went straight to practice and the players were popping around. They look like a whole new team, I definitely think they're on the right track. The overall enthusiasm and attitude was great. Everything they do is about beating Ohio State. I think the coaches were great, they were honest and genuine. It's hard to compare visits, but I'm definitely interested in Michigan.
I think Michigan would be in good position with Appleby if they were to offer. We'll see if that happens.
6'3", 220 lbs.
I brought up Antonio as a name to keep an eye on a few weeks ago. He hasn't been offered yet, but is planning on taking a trip to Ann Arbor this Saturday.
I'm really interested in Michigan. That was my favorite team growing up. I talked to Coach Hecklinski and they haven't offered yet, but they really like me.
Morrison is hoping for an offer this weekend, and if Michigan does offer they could vault into his top group.
I know the coaches from San Diego State, but I don't know too much about them. I have about ten offers right now but the schools I talk to the most are Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana. [Michigan] would definitely be in my top three schools if they offered. I don't really have a leader yet, but if Michigan were to offer they might be at the top.
There are already a good amount of linebacker prospects with offers that Michigan is in good position with. We'll see if Antonio does get offered this weekend, but I wouldn't be shocked if he wasn't.
6'4", 295 lbs.
Battle Creek, Michigan
Latta is a big prospect that hasn't started to pick up steam with his recruitment yet. He currently has offers from Wisconsin and Western. Some schools prefer him on the offensive line and some prefer defensive line. Michigan has shown interest in Kelby, and the new coaching staff has made that feeling mutual.
I like the kind of mentality the new coaches are bringing and starting to get. I like the style of ball they're playing, and I just want to see what kind of coaches they are and how we get a long.
Kelby hasn't picked up many offers yet so he isn't anywhere near making his final decision. He does have an idea of how it will play out though.
I want to have it down to three schools by the time football season comes around. I know Wisconsin will be in there and the other two spots are open. Michigan has a chance to be in there. I'll probably make my final decision at the end of the season. I'm really just looking for the style of play, if they can win, the coaches, the class I'd be coming in with, and the education.
Wisconsin is the leader for now, but Kelby has interest in finding out more about Michigan. Latta says that the Michigan coaches have told him they prefer him on the offensive line. They have quite a few offers out already to offensive linemen with around 4 committable spots left.
- If you missed it you can take a look at what QB Zeke Pike thought of his visit to Michigan here. Pike just took in Arkansas this past weekend, but Michigan has done a good job of getting in the conversation. Zeke plans on making his decision within the next few months and as of now Michigan has a great chance.
- Visit reactions from Minnesota OL Jonah Pirsig and Ohio TE AJ Williams are here.
- East Detroit TE Ron Thompson told me he will be making his decision within the next few weeks. He doesn't have a set date, just whenever he feels ready. Michigan is in good position.
- Ohio LB Kaleb Ringer will be announcing his decision on April 15th at 6pm EST. Michigan is in good position here as well.
- Michigan offered Texas fullback EJ Fatu (5'10", 235 lbs). His late father was Eddie Fatu, the WWE wrestler and his cousin is The Rock.
[Ed-M: Bumped because this is all important stuff. Photos: MGoBlue.com: all from March 30 practice. Click through to see, among other things, Urban Meyer on the sidelines.]
I want to start by wishing a Happy Birthday to Bo. Born this day in 1929.
I attended practice yesterday and here are some very random notes and observations.
I gravitate to the LBs because that's what I coach and I try to pick up new drills/techniques. Here are the 11 guys who were working with the LB corp: Cam Gordon, Brandin Hawthorne, Marell Evans, Kenny Demens, Isaiah Bell, Mike Jones, Jake Ryan, JB Fitzgerald, Paul Gyarmati, Brandon Herron, Jordan Paskorz. They were running a lot of basic drills because, quite frankly, this group has a LOT of work ahead of them.
- Cam Gordon is ALL of 6' 3". He's gotten taller since he was a senior in HS (I know because I stood next to him at a spring practice last year and I was definitely taller than him). He looks good, physically. He's added a significant amount of muscle and has real good pop. During one particular drill where the LB shuffles downhill then forms up on the "ballcarrier," Cam surprised the ballcarrier with an explosive pop. It was either Bell or Demens. Whoever it was felt it, I can promise you that.
- Josh Furman has sweet dreads. He's a good sized kid too and got a lot of reps
- Marell Evans got a lot of reps with the ones during the scrimmage. He seems very comfortable with his teammates and coaches.
- Jake Ryan's helmet is chipped all to hell, which tells me he keeps his head up at the point of contact and has a nose [Ed-M: Or more accurately forehead] for the ball. I thought Cam looked taller but they're both listed at 6'3" on the roster.
During the scrimmages, the defense moved around a lot, displaying multiple looks. Although they were running a 4-3, Mike Martin was lined up over the center (or shaded) most of the time.
Big Will and Q got a lot of reps (with the 1s and 2s). I think Will probably gets more coaching than any kid on the team. It appears to me that the coaches REALLY believe they have something special in Will if they can just coach him up and bring it out of him. He is a big kid with a lot of potential and could be scary good if he makes up his mind and puts in the work. BTW, Will talks a lot of shit. On one play, he pursued Devin to the sideline and out of bounds, gave him some lip, then smacked the ball out of Devin's hands. It was all in good fun and I think it shows that Big Will is feeling like he's an integral part of this team. BW is big but QW isn't far behind. These two have a chance to make a huge impact, if they simply learn to work hard and realize what they can achieve.
Curt Mallory is by far the most intense person on the entire field. He is working hard with the DBs.
It's obvious both sides of the ball are learning new schemes. Lots of mistakes and miscues. However, the intensity is there. Ryan Van Bergen is your vocal leader of the defense.
Here are the DBs I noticed getting lots of reps: Courtney Avery, Jordan Kovacs, Thomas Gordon, Floyd Simmons, Cullen Christian, Jared VanSlyke, Greg Brown, Marvin Robinson, Tony Anderson, and Al Backey.
- During one scrimmage, Jordan Kovacs dropped the hammer on an outstretched Je'Ron Stokes. It was a BIG lick, but Stokes held onto the ball and popped right up.
- Courtney Avery ran with the 1s all the time. He looks good although I think 5'11" is generous. I talked with his dad (Courtney Sr) for a while. Super nice family (mom and younger brother were there too). He said everything is completely different for Courtney and it's like starting over: Terminology, technique, alignment, philosophy, scheme.
- Cullen Christian has sweet tats on the back of both arms. Written in old english font with a 2 and C on the left arm and 4 and C on the right. (That's some Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporting, isn't it?)
- Speaking of tats, it's one thing I noticed we have a LOT of. There's some sweet artwork out there.
- Woolfolk and Floyd were off in the corner with a S&C coach, working their asses off. The coach had one of those punching dummies that the two players would take turns delivering two handed shivers in rapid succession.
Here's something I'm sure you'll all be fired up about: the 1st team D owned the first team O in Red Zone scrimmage. Three times in a row the D stuffed the O, including a 1st and goal from the 2 which resulted in a fumble, recovered by Herron. The defense was noticably more vocal than the O, but I don't think that means anything other than the O is doing a lot more thinking, rather than just playing.
It was quite evident that this was the first week of practice under a new system. On the other hand, the 2nd team O scored in one play (both passes to the right side) TWICE against the 2nd team D.
Offensively, Rocko Khoury was the center during the scrimmages, but Molk participated in the conditioning. I don't recall seeing Molk out on the field, but maybe I just overlooked him (shame on me).
Your first O line was (from left to right) Huyge, Barnum, Khoury, Omameh, Schofield. Lewan wasn't in pads. Second O line was Barnum, Khoury, Burzynski, Pace, Gunderson.
Every time I looked up, it seemed Drew Dileo was retunring a punt or kick. There was a decent amount of time devoted to special teams at the begining and end of practice, which I thought was, you know....... important (lol). Both kickers were lined up on opposite hashes (Seth on the right hash, Brendan on the left), starting with 27 yard kicks then moving back to 35 yarders. I will leave you with this....... they need more practice.
I didn't watch the offense all that much as I was trying to concentrate on what the defense was doing and who was on the field. However Denard is sweet. His smile and personality resonate from across the field. I honestly feel like we have been blessed, not with just a hell of an athlete, but a hell of a kid. That is all.
Finally, I had a chance to talk with Coach Jerry Hanlon for a bit. I haven't seen him in a LONG time, but he looks and sounds great. I'm surprised he still has a voice because he did a LOT of yelling back in the day. I remember one spring practice, for some reason, Coach Hanlon decided to coach from the press box, which was really odd. Nobody ever did that.. Anyway, we were going through a scrimmage or inside skele and all of the sudden, from WAAaaaay on high, this high-pitched, angry voice bellowed down from above. It brought practice to a screeching halt as everyone stopped what they were doing so they could take in the ass chewing Coach Hanlon's dished out to some poor linemen from 100 feet in the air. I guess you had to be there, but it was memorable.
Sorry this is late. Spent large chunks of the afternoon futilely trying to Google hard numbers on spiraling coach salaries.
You wouldn't know it from the college football world's reaction to HBO's most recent edition of Real Sports—best summed up by Michigan tight end Kevin Koger, who tweeted "They snitched on Auburn lol"—but the point of the thing was a little broader than the Paul Finebaum show. It was yet another discussion about the NCAA's amateurism brought about by March Madness.
This is a near-annual rite. Attention to the tournament invariably sees journalists bring up the eye-popping dollars CBS pays to air it, at which point someone's always like "hey, these players aren't getting any of that" and we get roundtables inexplicably containing Jason Whitlock, Rich Rodriguez, and Billy Packer. Since this is the first year of an even more eye-popping contract we've gotten a heavier dose than usual this year, one sufficient to prompt responses from John Gasaway and Big Ten Geeks. Oh, and also this.
Pieces on these tend to be maddeningly soapboxy. The headline on Whitlock's latest column is witheringly dumb: "Greedy NCAA exploits athletes." The content isn't much better. In an effort to keep things as engineery as possible, a series of questions and a table.
Who is hypothetically getting exploited?
Football and basketball players in power conferences. Nothing else consistently turns a profit. In other sports that occasionally do—baseball and hockey—there is an alternate development path for anyone who doesn't like the NCAA model. The only restriction placed on those players is that baseball players who pass up a contract out of high school have to stay in college at least three years. In other conferences even successful schools like VCU are throwing money down a pit—77% of their "revenue" comes from student fees*.
Who is benefiting from hypothetical exploitation?
- Non-revenue athletes. About 30% of Michigan's expenses are related to housing, educating, transporting, and outfitting athletes with another 16% devoted to giving them places to play.
- Coaches. 17% of Michigan's revenue pays them.
- Everyone else. 21% of Michigan's revenue goes to the rest of the department.
It is clear that as revenue rises, Coaches and Everyone Else take up an increasingly large chunk of the pie. In the last ten years Michigan has added PSLs to its football seats and seen television revenue skyrocket. They've gone from 25 to 27 sports, and they'll add two more in the near future when lacrosse and a sop to Title IX are added.
Operating revenue has gone from 78 million in 2004-05 to 106 million last year. Outlays to students have gone from 11.4 million to 15.7. Coaches have gone from 9.3 to 14.7, and Everyone Else from 12.3 to 18.5. Chart? Chart.
Michigan outlays to scholarships, coaches, and administrators (millions)
|2004||2010||Pct 2004||Pct 2010|
Students are essentially constant as a percentage of revenue, and that's only because tuition keeps skyrocketing as long as anyone can get a federal non-dischargeable student loan. They're watching the people around them eat up more and more as a percentage of revenues as places like Michigan get big enough that costs like flying people around and building stuff top out. And this is over six years! In 2007 the average compensation of a D-I head coach averaged one million dollars; last year it had already gone up 36%. When I wrote about Michigan putting EMU on the schedule in 2007 I ran across a now-linkrotted Bloomberg article with this stunning fact:
This relatively ancient Bloomberg article from March 2005 takes a look at the increase in NCAA coaching salaries across the board from '97 to '03 and finds that average compensation went up 89 percent in just six years. This is before the twelfth game. (Though it's noted that there were some twelfth games in there. That was a calendar quirk and not permanent policy, however.) This is before 3-2-5e*. This before Superfluous BCS Bowl and The Two Teams With Six Wins Each bowls. This includes the obscurest coaches you can think of, like Romanian Buffalo Polo.
Eighty-nine percent in six years.
*[The hated clock rules that got repealed after one year were at the time loathed enough to be referred to solely by bylaw.]
Is there a real case here?
It's getting to the point where the Whitlocks of the world are not entirely crazy. There was a time when Bo Schembechler was making 100k per year and had to have a tearful press conference because Texas A&M offered him the life-changing sum of one million dollars and he turned it down. At that juncture anyone crying about exploitation was nuts, not that there was anyone doing that.
HOWEVA. Given the revenue growth at major universities there is a point at which even the student managers are walking around wearing monocles and puffing cigars and there will be a unified popular opinion that we can no longer treat the people doing the bulk of the labor like Oliver Twist except with infinite sex and training table. Which, granted, isn't much like Oliver Twist at all. But at some point it seems like it.
I don't know how much of the uptick in "Everyone Else" for Michigan is adding to the legions dedicated to getting athletes their educations. It's some. It's probably not that much when you consider the revenue athletes specifically and it certainly isn't enough to look a the above chart without a sense of foreboding as to where this is going. It is clear as day Michigan has money to spend on these athletes, and that goes for every team sporting a coach making too much money relative to revenues (in case you are wondering: this is all of them).
The money goes somewhere. It doesn't go to more rowers. It goes to the literal and metaphorical scaffolding around the athletes, and being in Michigan Stadium these days looking up at luxury boxes and down at Denard Robinson kind of makes me think this Oliver Twist point is in the past, at least for me.
So what now, smart guy?
I'm not actually sure. I do know that guys like Andrew Zimbalist who advocate the reduction of scholarship limits are precisely wrong about the problem. The outlay to keep a football player around is the only thing that has remained relatively constant over the course of the Knight Commission's infinite complaints about costs. They've gone up by the cost of tuition. Coaching salaries have gone up by multiples.
The fact that anyone's even talking about making cuts to the sole redeeming bit of the whole enterprise speaks to just how badly the system is messed up. Revenue sports are disproportionately populated by black males,** many of whom wouldn't have a shot at college otherwise. Cutting them so you can keep paying the people around them in gold bullion is an idea only an academic economist could come up with.
The opposite would be better. Hockey has 18 scholarships, three short of fielding a full team. Baseball has some weird number like 11.7. Many athletes make do with partial or no scholarships in equivalency sports. The NCAA should significantly raise those restrictions. Small schools will complain about unbalancing the playing field and blah blah but we are talking about putting kids on scholarship, not autobids. An unbalanced playing field because one school has offered to pay for more tuition than the other is justified. It's beyond justified.
As for the guys making the actual money, I'm not that peeved about basketball since 99% of the exploited are good enough to go on to pro careers here or in Europe and anyone good enough can just screw off after a year or two. It's in football and its brain damage and other damage and low chance of a reasonable minor league career and low chance of an NFL career longer than three years that the moral compass gets a little confused. It's hard to look at 110,000 people paying close to 100 bucks a head and look down at Martavious Odoms and think he's not getting a raw deal.
*[Numbers come from the USA Today database. Unfortunately, it doesn't produce permalinks. VCU's specific case highlights the stupidity of the OTL piece on athletic departments making a "profit". The Rams are 600k in the red even with 12.4 million in student support. They are nowhere close to self-sustaining.]
**[45% in football and 60% in basketball this year; in all D-I sports white guys are 63% of the population; 77% of women playing sports are white; 57% of the undergrads are women.]
HOCKEYBEAR IS—AW, HAMBURGERS THAT'S NEXT WEEK
|WHAT||You vs A Weekend Without Michigan Sporting Events|
|WHERE||The Depths Of Your Existential Dread, Pancreas, TX|
|WHEN||An irritatingly persistent feeling that serves as a preview for the Long Dark after the Frozen Four|
|THE LINE||Existential Dread -7|
|TELEVISION||Versus (Versus will televise anything)|
Flipping Through The Channels, Finding Nothing But Clippers Games
(And the Final Four, I guess)
Record. 10-10, 5-5 in conference. Everything this weekend is a nondescript defensive battle between teams too bad to be exciting and too good to be interesting. Both teams wear grey, and Ricky Davis is nowhere in sight.
Previous meetings. Last summer this was a merciful end. The prospect of being required to watch nothing except half-full NBA arenas that double as Ambien for their attendees was sweet relief after football and basketball imploded and hockey only narrowly avoided doing so.
Dangermen. You're really going to want to watch out for old baseball/football/hockey cards (17-27-44), especially that Tim Cheveldae rookie card you thought was going to be worth thousands by now. They will remind you of a time when even bits of cardboard with pictures of people on them were endlessly fascinating. Remembering this could lead into other reveries, like the first time you saw a boob on pay cable, that can only go downhill from there.
Goalie and defense and whatnot. Alcohol, probably. Hang on to the "previous meetings" factoid. It will help to remember that the alternative to feeling lost and alone after relevant sporting events cease is feeling like that all the time. Wait, that doesn't help at all.
Special teams. Their power play is better than Michigan's, I tell you what!
You Versus The Dread Sports Distracts You From
Good luck with that, buddy. You may even find yourself bowling. You hate bowling.
Scandals are pretty much sports too. Jim Tressel, man.
When in doubt.
HOCKEYBEAR IS GO ANYWAY
The Big Picture
Next Thursday and, God willing, Saturday are the Frozen Four. The methadone of spring practice and the spring game-type-substance will provide a gentle glide path into May, but at that point you're just waiting for September. Prepare.