Brandon said, “We all think of every home Michigan football game like a miniature Super Bowl.”
I don’t know any Michigan fans who think that. Quite the opposite, they think Michigan football games are the antidote for the artificial excess of the Super Bowl.
Bacon has hit a nerve here—his server is imploding under the pressure.
The problem with Dave Brandon is that he is a mediocrity in a suit with one skill, which is wearing the suit. Unfortunately, this is who is in charge most places. But when Georgia fans, who were until recently saddled with one of our nation's greatest suited mediocrities in Michael Adams, are pointing at us and saying "it could be worse"… well, it ain't good.
At least we have the student government?
The move to general admission was fairly disastrous for Michigan last fall, and former student body president Michael Proppe launched a survey of students midway through the season.
“It was so overwhelmingly negative, we knew we had to come up with something,” Proppe said.
The first survey that had 6,000 respondents was taken after the fourth home game and responses — including 76 percent saying they did not approve of general admission — were shared with the athletic department.
“It just didn’t really work,” he said.
A second survey administered with the athletic department gave a better gauge of what students want. They were asked to rank what’s most important for their game-day experience, and No. 1 was being able to sit with friends. Interestingly, students said having Wi-Fi was the lowest priority.
“That is such a misconception that putting in Wi-Fi is going to get students to show up,” Proppe said.
Michael Proppe for AD. Seriously.
Also yes. Bo Pelini suggests doing away with Signing Day altogether, which I almost support for this reason:
"If somebody has offered a kid, let him sign, it's over," Pelini told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "That will stop some of the things that are happening -- people just throwing out offers, some of them with really no intention of taking a kid."
The "almost" part is that the kid should be able to get out of the LOI if the coach he committed to gets the axe. The best system would maintain the Signing Day hoopla but also feature a non-binding LOI that you could sign whenever that would 1) prevent coaches from contacting you, 2) prevent you from taking an official visit to another school, 3) let the coaches you signed with talk to you whenever they want, and 4) guarantee you a scholarship at school X.
you get better pictures from the Mars lander
Well that clears up everything. The Ann Arbor News has an in-depth investigation about whether Taylor Lewan was the guy who punched some Ohio State fans who were begging to get punched ("Munsch had been walking around with a megaphone … taunted U-M fans on the street and inside the Brown Jug") after last year's edition of The Game. They have video that clears nothing up and quotes that contradict each other from about a dozen different people.
My takeaway is that this is time that could have been better spent finding anything else out. It seems like this incident has gotten a ton of attention for some drunk bar punchin' such as happens just about everywhere most years.
The last time I mentioned a potential transfer coming in for a visit it worked out all right. West Virginia shooting guard Eron Harris will be on campus this weekend, and a commitment to someone should be forthcoming soon. Harris has already been at Purdue and Michigan State, his other two finalists.
Perhaps relevant: MSU just landed a commitment from 2015 OH SG Kyle Ahrens, a guy who was vaguely on Michigan's radar. Harris is effectively a 2015 SG, so that may be a signal MSU doesn't have a great vibe with him.
2016 IN PG Eron Gordon is also slated to be on campus this weekend, and then the Michigan elite camp will bring in all manner of 2016 gentlemen fighting for Michigan's love and vice-versa.
The new guy. MGoVideo has a supercut of every Ty Isaac touch from last year. Sorry, you'll have to go over there—no embedding. I'm a little torn—Isaac doesn't look particularly explosive but then he outruns defensive backs in that game against Cal. Maybe he's just one of those guys who don't look like they're moving at high speed but somehow are. Guys do tend to bounce off him; Isaac had some nice chunks of YAC and tends to fall forward when that's at all a possibility.
You cannot be seeeeeeeerious. The NCAA published a snippy little press release about the portion of the O'Bannon case that EA settled on that must be seen to be believed:
The NCAA did finally find someone in their office who had a dictionary and changed "benefactors" to "beneficiaries." Meanwhile, the NCAA claiming that the "real benefactors" are the lawyers, who have dared to make money off the backs of student-ath…
uh… this is a terrible idea
I know, but that's never stopped us before
…DARED TO MAKE MONEY OFF THE BACKS OF STUDENT-ATHLETES is just… wow, man.
And they're probably going to try to draw a line between athletes being compensated for the use of their likeness in a court case and being compensated for the use of their likeness legally. I set the over under on exploded heads at NCAA HQ in the next two years at 2.5.
None of this does anything. The hockey rules committee was looking at some notable changes including three-quarter shields and changes to overtime procedure. Those all went away. The most notable change they have suggested:
Faceoff Location – Offensive Scoring Opportunity: If the offensive team is attempting to score and the puck goes out of play – the faceoff will remain in the attacking zone.
Status quo. Jake Butt is still on track to return by week three:
"I don't think we know (exactly when he'll be back) yet, but I wouldn't expect him back until after week three," Hoke said. "He feels great, he thinks he's Superman. They all do at that age.
"But he feels good."
Hoke said the hope is to get Butt back to seeing live contact action after the week three game against Miami-Ohio -- at the earliest.
This will be interesting. The Ed O'Bannon case kicks off Monday. SI has a primer and the NCAA witness list, which consists of folks disproportionately relevant to you: both Brandon and Mary Sue Coleman are on it, as are MSU AD Mark Hollis and Jim Delany. It seems like bad news that one of the economists on the NCAA side has this quote in a book of his:
“The NCAA restricts competition in a number of important activities. To reduce bargaining power by student athletes, the NCAA creates and enforces rules regarding eligibility and terms of compensation.”
It'll be interesting, but not suspenseful. Claudia Wilken, the judge in the case, has already dismissed the word "amateurism" and ruled that the NCAA can't even mention non-revenue sports, leaving:
Her reasoning is that no one forces schools to sponsor teams that can't financially support themselves, so she considers the impact on those teams irrelevant in the eyes of the law. This doesn't leave much for the NCAA to argue except the pro-competitive aspects of its rules.
A pro-competitive aspect that anyone who's ever looked at a recruiting site knows doesn't exist and the SEC commissioner just said this about:
“I consider this period of time one of the historic moments that all of us are witnesses to — an evolutionary change where we put the student-athletes first and we build our philosophies on the student-athlete rather than the so-called level playing field,” Slive said.
The NCAA is gon' die. Their current arguments are straightforward descriptions of functioning markets.
"In those circumstances, it is basic economics that allowing cash payments for (name, image and likeness usage) for the first time will tilt the distribution of talent and success towards colleges and universities with more cash to spend."
Oh, and this one.
They are only in the stadium at all because their colleges and universities have agreed to let them play ... (Athletes) cannot own the right to broadcast their games when they need the same permission that broadcasters do to be in the stadium at all.
The only tension is in how fast the NCAA will get laughed out of court.
Etc.: Caris finds his way onto a list of the top 15 draft prospects already in school. If you have no idea about soccer here's a good place to start. Looking at next year's softball team. MVictors points out a Kickstarter for old-timey jerseys. B10 championship to stay in Indy; basketball tournament to still mostly rotate between Chicago and Indy. North Carolina's Rashad McCants says the school bit of his career was a total sham.
I'll miss you, terror books. Not really.
Aaand it falls off. I've been doing annual APR posts the past few years because Michigan was in a dodgy spot after the Carr/Rodriguez transfer year saddled Michigan with a horrendous 897. That plus an also-dismal 918 in Carr's last year put Michigan within shouting distance of penalties, which they avoided by putting up a series of nice numbers. Since Hoke's arrival Michigan has largely avoided academic risks, so it was just matter of time before that 897 fell off and Michigan shot up. It just did.
Drumroll… Michigan's football APR is now 975. The constituent scores:
- 2010: 942
- 2011: 984
- 2012: 981
- 2013: 985
Their 975 places them fourth in the Big Ten, behind Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Nebraska; if they continue on their current mid-980s rate they'd pass Nebraska but still remain third if everyone else is static.
So hooray. The main upshot of this is that OSU assistants can't send out APR lists in novelty fonts claiming "the stats don't lie" or make charts that aren't even sorted correctly because their players managed to get through Pokémon 401. (But not Sort Function In Excel 330.) OSU's APR is now worse than Michigan's.
Oh, and the NCAA will not do bad things. Meanwhile, at Southern University…
Oooooof. RT @JonSolomonCBS: All Southern University teams also have APR postseason bans due to unusable data. Ouch.
— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) May 14, 2014
…several people just got fired with prejudice.
Reload and fire at will. EDSBS Bowl reaches day four with Michigan still staggeringly far out ahead of the pack with 5.4k to Auburn's 1.3k. Give us the significance of your donation in the comments.
When in need of vague hand-waving that means nothing, call in the right man. Dave Brandon and Mark Hollis will testify for the NCAA in the Ed O'Bannon case. Hollis will claim that his deposition would better on an aircraft carrier on the moon; Brandon will tell the opposition lawyer that he "knows a little something about branding" 18 times. After each, the lawyer will calmly explain the question had nothing to do with branding.
Well then. Alabama tailback Derryck Henry took a photograph of himself in front of an expensive new car that he said was his, creating little "BAGMAN!" tornadoes across the internet. These are the natural order. This is a bit outside of it:
I'm a little dubious that title was on the table for White, a nondescript three-star recruit, but it could be one of those deals like the Clarett/Pryor thing where the dealership lets you "test drive" the car for months. In any case, yes some guy gave this dude a car or money or whatever and the NCAA will not do anything about it so our choices are to be uselessly smug or repeal all this crap that's not getting enforced anyway.
An odd fit, yes. Will Leitch makes a good point about replay in basketball: because of the nature of the game, sometimes there are things that are going to be both wrong and right at the same time. An event from late in the Clippers/Thunder game 6 blew up twitter, demonstrating the problem.
… it is clear that Barnes fouled Jackson; even more clear, perhaps, than that the ball was off Jackson last. At this point, the referees had a decision to make. Should they follow the rules of replay to the letter and award the ball to the Clippers? Or should they make the right call, which was to give the ball to the Thunder?
They gave the ball to the Thunder, which Leitch describes as "vigilante officiating." That stuff happens all the time on out of bounds situations. Fouls are committed but let go when the ball goes out of bounds and is awarded to the other team. Once you start reviewing those you upset the delicate balance there. Basketball replay is inherently goofy because of that.
At least those reviews sometimes amount to something, unlike college basketball's unceasingly tedious replays for flagrant fouls that never, ever come back with a flagrant.
I would be in favor. With Notre Dame due to become a fading memory and replacements ranging from yawn to moderately interesting, I would be down with Tom Fornelli's radical solution to college football breaking itself:
ACC, Big Ten and SEC could solve all their scheduling problems in one simple step. Ditch non-conference games, stay within your conference, continue to foster the regional rivalries that made this sport so popular to begin with, and then send your champion to the playoff to take on the winners of the other conferences.
This is more of a problem for the ACC and SEC, which have a number of annual rivalries that would be set on fire by this. The Big Ten has none of those now. ND-MSU, you say? Mark Hollis just admitted that their series with the Irish is "gone," save for occasional games in the future.
So, yeah, I'd be happier with Michigan dumping MAC games and playing a near-round-robin against the conference. It will never ever happen in a million billion years, I acknowledge. But it would be better.
Numbers. Bill Connelly's got a charting project going that returns numbers. With the disclaimer that not all games were charted and therefore things might be skewed by sampling bias (12 NW games are in versus two Wisconsin games, but then again there were only 2 A&M games versus ten for Tommy Tuberville's Cincinnati), here are some overall trends:
49% [of plays] took place without a huddle, 51% came with a huddle.
Without a huddle does not necessarily mean hurrying, of course. Lots of outfits don't huddle but will use chunks of the playclock for check-with-me. I'm actually surprised the no-huddle percentage isn't higher.
56% came from a shotgun formation, 26% with the quarterback under center, and 18% from the pistol.
Would be fascinated to see how this developed over the last ten years.
On pass plays, the defense rushed four defenders at the passer 61% of the time, five 19% of the time, three 11% of the time, six or more 8% of the time, and one or two just 0.3% of the time.
Michigan was not far away from this, FWIW.
On standard downs, 26% of pass attempts were marked as a play-action attempt of some kind. On passing downs, 11% were play-action.
Every single one of the passing down play action plays was Al Borges running a waggle from a big formation on second and eleven. Holy crap. I can't believe he did that with the running game he had. This joke isn't funny anymore.
Etc.: 2015 hockey commit Kyle Connor might be a big deal: THN ranks him 9th for next year's NHL draft. Stay away from killer robots (and the OHL), Kyle.
Penn State fan loses respect for NFL because Michael Sam got drafted. How Iowa makes NFL recruits. Man no one should listen to says playoff will stay at 4 teams. Iowa, preseason darling? Soccer announces a tough schedule. The next time someone tells you that athletic departments don't make a profit, remind them that the scholarship money counted as debt is fiction.
Michigan adds Jon Jansen to their broadcast team.
I've got this dresser I'm painting to go with our bedroom furniture. A few weekends ago I got one coat on it. Then it rained and ruined half the second coat. So I took it out there again but it started to rain on and off and I had to hide it under the garage overhang. Every day I check to see if there will be six good hours of sunlight somewhere to stick the last coat on it, and every time there's a dollop of drizzle here, a sprinkle there, and at least one good pour per day.
It is as hopeless and infuriating as being a Michigan fan. I know we can't complain too hard because there are places like West Lafayette where it just rains all the time, or Champaign where the weatherman predicts sun so you'll be outside when the softball-sized hail comes.
Your April shower was Urban Meyer coming to piss on your attempt to add a grad-year transfer to the OL, and now May flowers with a boatload of puritan crap.
I'm still livid. For a second there it looked like at least one of Michigan's major sports was going to be sustainably great, so of course that's when the most insane decision yet by an organization best known for blithering stupid decisions knocks basketball from a likely 1-seed to something way less than that. McGary's mad too, but the NBA's not a terrible fallback plan. Michigan got screwed the most.
The last guy I could find to get the one-year ban was a role player at UNLV who lost his 5th year to it in 2010. We've been scouring Google to turn up polls and quotes to give you some idea of how ubiquitous pot-smoking is among college athletes. The NCAA's own study came back at 1 in 5:
I'm suddenly liking lacrosse more
So how is it, even if the draconian rule only applies to the playoffs, that the merciless league can only manage to tag one guy every four years? There's a synthetic version that regular pot-smoking athletes will use during the season to beat the tests. So when they do catch a guy with good ol'fashioned THC in his system, it's usually only because he's a total amateur. No pun intended.
Whence the leapers?
I know Jones is 10, but I keep getting Dukes (83) and York (81) confused.
The 2012 receiver class had a pair of high 4-star types with similar I-saved-my-family-from-a-terrible-place-in-Africa stories. The 2014 class had the guy who rewrote the in-state record books and what already looks like a gem in Freddy Canteen. Lost in the narrative have been the three large-and-leapy 2013 guys. What do we expect from C'sonte, Jaron and Da'Mario? That's a good question.
This year I expect depth. In addition to Gallon we also graduated Dileo and Jackson and Reynolds. If Nussmeier indeed goes 3-wide a lot more as we hope, then at least one of them ought to figure on the two-deep in 2014.
Jones is more "slot-like", i.e. thin, though he's not at all short. I think his upside is Roy Roundtree, and so long as they leave him in the slot that'll be just fine. Dukes and York represent a specific type of receiver who can simply muscle past the type of legal-unless-they-call-it press coverage en vogue these days, and simply out-leap the 5'8 buggers who won't have any trouble staying with them. They're development projects: it takes years to perfect off-the-snap and route techniques to make this work. Unfortunately, Michigan only bothered to get a redshirt on Dukes last year, which, given Mathlete's finding that receiver experience is a big deal, is infuriating. Mo Ways is in this vein too, FWIW.
Etc. Hoops previews of Illinois, Maryland, and…Iowa? Hmm. Prediction for the remainder: Michigan (we should be below Iowa), Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin. Photos from the Go Blue Bowl. The 2013-'14 cagers' contributions to the season's gifs. Lacrosse potentially could go green…I mean more green.
[After the jump: why 2014 offense isn't 2011 defense, I enter the ranks of MGoBloggers who rant about Brandon]
Hey MGoBlog team,
Thought it might be fun to list what would reasonably need to happen on order for Michigan to have a B1G division championship season. I've got: dramatically improved interior OL play, inferior outside OL replacements that still perform above expectations, better QB decision making (fewer interceptions), adequate WR replacements for graduating seniors, improved DL play, and status quo the rest of the way. Follow up question is, what are the odds of these things happening and can we see any historic examples of these sorts of improvements in just one year? Or are we just screwed and should hibernate until basketball season?
Uh. Let me blow the dust off my optimism beanie, place it upon my pate, and spin the propellor.
I feel… marginally better. All right, let's tackle this. If Michigan's going to win the division they have to at least split their dual road games against MSU and OSU and then hope misfortune befalls the one they lose to a couple times. Oh, and beat Penn State and Northwestern and not, like, blow it against Rutgers and Minnesota.
How do they do that? Probably the same way they beat Notre Dame and nearly beat Ohio State last year: Devin Gardner playing like the baby of Denard and Tom Brady. The run game is just not going to be good enough to rely upon. Things that need to happen:
Magnuson and Braden are at least okay. Or Cole or whoever ends up playing tackle.
The interior line is not a complete shamocracy, and someone can pick up a blitz. Reducing bad decisions from the quarterback is at least 50% on reducing the number of opportunities to make bad decisions under pressure.
Gardner increments. 8.6 YPA, 450 yards against OSU, 60% completions… Gardner does not have to go particularly far to be B10 championship quality even if he has a heavy burden.
The defensive line can hold up against mean ol' OLs. The DL wasn't an enormous problem until Ondre Pipkins went down and Ohio State's terrible matchup came to town. With Henry back and still on an improvement kick and the losses eminently sustainable (Washington inexplicably did not play as much as he did as a junior and Black was way, way out of position by year's end) plus Michigan's initial DL rush starting to bear fruit, improvement here is likely.
Pass rush has to exist, in a serious fashion. I'd be more comfortable about this if Ryan was still your edge threat and Clark was bookending him. As it is, increments from Beyer and Clark plus added aggression also seem to bode well here.
A competent safety has to be found opposite Wilson. Your guess as good as mine.
Probabilities: dodgy, very dodgy, likely, likely, 50/50. If you told me the OL would be like a C+ I'd actually be pretty positive about this season… but man, that's a long way to go from an F-, down Lewan and Schofield.
Wait you think this was on purpose?
Dave Brandon isn't a terrible negotiator, he seems to get what he wants, so presumably he wanted this home schedule. Is the point so that we alternate between having all of our difficult games away one year, then having them all at home the next? That way every other year we presumably have a great run that gets us to the B1G championship? The easy early games are obvious schedule padding...
Dave [ed: not Brandon]
I am taken aback by the idea Dave Brandon is a sly fox who always gets his way. It's true the first thing he had to tackle—stretchgate—was seemingly done with aplomb, but in retrospect since the USC case the NCAA hasn't done anything to anybody of note that didn't involve 1) multiple lies from the head coach about NCAA violations or 2) horrible horrible felonies. You or I could have piloted Michigan to a slap on the wrist once the various improprieties turned out to be 15 minutes of extra stretching and grad assistants looking in on summer practices.
- Michigan hired Brady Hoke, possibly because negotiations with Jim Harbaugh went poorly. That "all that glitters is not gold" line from the press conference lingers as bitterness over those negotiations breaking down.
- Michigan gave Brady Hoke a top ten contract when he was not in demand anywhere else and said he'd walk to Michigan.
- Michigan and Ohio State got stuck in opposite divisions with a crossover game, thus guaranteeing that Michigan would have the hardest schedule in their division over time had they lasted.
- Michigan played Alabama for less than they would get for a home game. The head-staving by Alabama made no financial sense, as Michigan traded a huge TV event and a game with ticket prices that were 50-100% higher than home game tickets for an outlay parsimonious enough that bringing the band was a big problem.
- Michigan wore a series of clowniforms. Fan pushback was so severe on this that they have dialed it back out of necessity. Meanwhile, Michigan can't even get uniforms that are, you know, uniform from Adidas.
- Notre Dame cancelled the Michigan series. They punked Brandon along the way, blindsiding him and getting themselves the last home game in the series after getting the first when the teams resumed.
- Michigan gave Al Borges a 300k raise. I mean. Gotta retain that guy.
- Michigan replaced Notre Dame with Arkansas. Look at future MSU and OSU schedules, which feature Oregon and Alabama and Oklahoma and Texas, for comparison.
- Michigan got stuck with MSU and OSU away in the same year. Not only that, they get to travel to MSU twice in a row.
- Michigan couldn't get Mitch McGary's suspension reduced. OSU DE Noah Spence is going to miss three games for testing positive for X or something like it, this after an appeal that reduced the punishment from a whole year. Meanwhile, the NCAA reduced the penalty for McGary's transgression two weeks after he received it. Michigan still got rejected by the NCAA.
With rights fees negotiated by the league, Brandon's main accomplishment as AD has been to raise ticket prices. Any bro in a suit could have done this. Any time he's had to interact with another human in an effort to protect Michigan's best interest or bottom line he's either lost or not even tried. (Night games are not an accomplishment. Networks aren't like "Michigan at night… pshaw." Michigan had been actively resisting them for years.)
His biggest negotiation wins are things that are nice for the bottom line but don't actually have any impact long term. And they're probably attributable more to the capacity of Michigan Stadium than anything else: the Winter Classic and this upcoming Man U-Real Madrid friendly.
So. While it's possible Dave Brandon wanted this home schedule—after all, he is personally responsible for the Horror II—it's more likely he just got run over by the Big Ten, because that's how things go. Things make much more sense if you think of Dave Brandon as Lucille Ball than as Gordon Gekko.
Has Michigan been the victim of B.S. penalties by the NCAA more than any other program?
...at least for the last decade? Specifically, I am thinking about the two obvious instances, which are 'Practicegate' and the recent McGary clusterf---. Both of these seems ludicrously disproportional in the severity of punishment compared to the actual crime. To compound matters, you don't need to look very far to see far more egregious punishment (e.g. Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel, etc) go completely unchecked.
Of course, the other nuance to this is that Michigan seems to be doing it to themselves. If they didn't so willingly 'play ball' and try to be as open and transparent as possible, would they even be in some of these messes? It seems to me the days of trying to play by the rules is long gone, and if the NCAA isn't even going to attempt to maintain an ounce of consistency, why would Michigan continue to get hammered while most others skate by?
But in all seriousness, has Michigan been the most unlucky/attacked program by the NCAA compared to the actual transgressions that have occurred?
In terms of proven allegations versus what appears to be the standard, USC would have an excellent case just on the strength of a recent NCAA punishment docket that looks like this:
1. Penn State, pre-softening
3. Penn State, post-softening
1,000,005. Jim Tressel lying to the NCAA at least four times about illegal Terrelle Pryor benefits
1,000,006. North Carolina not even really being a college for its students.
Michigan's stretch-gate crap was essentially nothing but bad PR. Given the way that went down and how the Freep creeps knew exactly what to FOIA it is extremely likely that was an inside job. By the time the NCAA got done with that they were specifically calling out the original article as sensationalized and inaccurate. The punishment was something like a 2% reduction in practice time and the loss of a grad assistant or two. I have no problem with the results of that investigation. It was a joke that turned up some technical malfeasance and was treated as such.
The McGary thing is just terrible luck and the NCAA being the dumbest organization on the planet. Plenty of other athletes have gotten nailed for Violating The Special Spirit Of Sport.
As to your point about not playing ball and just cheating your ass off because you'll get away with it… well, yeah. That is obviously the move. When the best team in the country is going into every year knowing they have to cut like ten guys before fall and it doesn't impact their recruiting, the way to the top is obvious: ruthlessness and lawlessness. By the book, USC probably got what they deserved. They feel aggrieved because almost literally everyone else is doing it and getting away with either nothing or minor penalties.
90% of the crap Michigan goes through they do to themselves. The NCAA is not the problem.
So there was a new Bacon book this year. We need to review this book. I'm going to do this with the expectation that you have either read it already or are going to. You should. It is a Bacon book. You are reading MGoBlog; either you are a person who appreciates Bacon or else a visiting Sparty looking for more trolling fodder, in which case help yourself to the board where I promise you there's plenty. Or better yet, read some Bacon—you're in the Big Ten; this concerns you too. And he says the Red Cedar is nice.
This is not a negative review, even though I have a tendency to focus on the "needs work" aspects—I'm the guy who walked out of The Return of the King after five years of unmitigated Peter Jackson man-crushing and complained that there were too many endings. So apologies to John U., who's higher in my esteem than Mr. Jackson and just about everyone whose quotes aren't emblazoned on a wall somewhere, for the plurality of minuses below.
More Bacon. Ever since Bo's Lasting Lessons, the chance to devour a new Bacon book has been somewhat of an event around these parts. As a Michigan fan it would be tough to follow the unparalleled access and insight into the Rich Rod program accomplished with Three and Out, specifically because that unvarnished snapshot was so starkly antithetical to Dave Brandon's meticulous staging of his Michigan show: You knew at the time that no true journalist would be allowed to see behind the bunting again, so it should only come as a mild disappointment that there is little about the Michigan program in this book that you didn't already know.
Fourth and Long: the Fight for the Soul of College Football is four unequal looks at four 2012 Big Ten programs, or four and a half if you count a mini-treatment that Michigan State and Mark Hollis receive as host of an Ohio State road game. In order of detail:
- Penn State from the point of view of its players, former players, coaches, and equipment managers as they find themselves taking the brunt of the Penn State Awful Thing, and the NCAA's and PSU brass's callow responses to it.
- Michigan from Bacon's own point of view of its fans, as those fans interact with Brandon's corporate-itude.
- Ohio State from the P.O.V. of Urban Meyer as he goes from win to win trying to get Zach Boren to like him, and
- Northwestern as the paragon of virtue.
Bacon set out, as is evident from the title and made clear throughout the book, to examine these four schools from different points of view (players, AD, head coach, and president, respectively), and use the findings to determine if any of the Big Ten's current models for college football are sustainable for college football in general. In it he consistently finds players and fans who "get it" while the people in control seek new and better ways to milk it.
But he could only use what he got from each school. With Ohio State the access was mostly restricted to Urban on game days. He brushes against tatgate but doesn't get into the cars or any other "everybody knows, nobody can prove" things—you have to appreciate that Bacon will never accuse somebody without proof (especially considering he's an avowed Michigan fan talking about Ohio State) but it's really hard to talk about college sports and the competitive problems therein without admitting there are relative bad guys. The Gee quote—"I hope he doesn't fire me!"—is in there in reference to the bloated role of college football head coach in America. The closest he comes to pointing out OSU's exceptionalism in this regard is when addressing the carrying off of Tressel after last year's Game:
"The Buckeyes do not run a renegade program, but they once again demonstrated they don't seem to care if their actions make others think they do."
This isn't a complaint; Bacon handled a sticky situation about as well as he could. With Northwestern he got some key interviews, particularly with Pat Fitzgerald, but no warts (this could be because they don't have any).
With Michigan Bacon was outside looking in, so he used some of the Bacon-usual suspects—Carty, the dueling barbershops, the public comments of James Duderstadt and Don Canham, Brian Cook of MGoBlog, etc. There's also an inside look at the Mud Bowl, and most interestingly, a candid interview with Michigan's band director about Send-the-Band-to-Dallas-gate. I was more intrigued by the comments made by Bill Martin on the corporatization of NCAA football, which I'll come back to. The whole Notre Dame saga is covered. Except for the band's comments most of this is old news to you.
The result is a book that's 52% about Penn State trying to survive 2012, with a bunch of stuff thrown in about some other schools and corporations to underscore a point made clear without leaving Happy Valley.
[After the jump: it's just, like, my opinion man.]
Hey kids. John's answered your questions in an extensive post below. I know his points hit close to home as we approach the last time Michigan Stadium will host Notre Dame for the foreseeable future. The book is Fourth and Long, and it's available now.
Is there a way of putting the genie back in the bottle, or have the aggressive, business-oriented strategies of highlighted in the book (and there are MANY instances therein) put Michigan on an irreversible, faulty trajectory?
[My question is in his estimation, where is that "tipping point" for Michigan, and what happens when we reach it?]
Great question, and one I’ve examined from as many angles as possible for this book. Really, for Michigan fans – and fans of college football generally – it is the central question.
Michigan happens to make a great case study, on two fronts: the loyalty of its fans, and the department’s profitably, both of which are virtually unequaled in college football.
First, the good news, from the book:
“Brandon’s style might not please everyone he deals with, but he delivers what he promises. Under Brandon, the department increased its operating surplus to $15.3 million in fiscal year 2012, 72 percent higher than the previous fiscal year. In 2012, the Michigan football team alone generated $61.6 million in profits, second only to the University of Texas, which has the considerable advantage of its exclusive twenty-year, $300 million TV deal with ESPN.
Brandon has delivered more than dollars, too. After hiring Brady Hoke in 2011, the Michigan football team beat Notre Dame on the last play of the Big House’s first night game, defeated Ohio State for the first time since 2003, and won a thrilling overtime game over eleventh-ranked Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, Michigan’s first BCS bowl victory since a young man named Tom Brady beat Alabama in the January 1, 2000, Orange Bowl.
In the 2011–12 school year, the hockey team earned a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament; the men’s basketball team won a share of its first Big Ten title since 1986; and the following fall, Michigan’s other twenty-nine sports combined to run a close second behind Stanford, and ahead of such perennial all-sport powers as Texas and UCLA, in the Directors’ Cup, which Michigan has never won.
If the Michigan athletic department had issued a 2012 annual report to its shareholders, it would have been the shiniest publication in college sports, packed with enough good news to make the competition envious. By those measures, its creator could be considered an all-American athletic director.
The Wolverines are not alone in spending millions, of course, engaged as they are in an arms race with the Buckeyes and the Southeastern Conference that shows no signs of slowing down. In Brandon’s speeches to alumni clubs, service groups, and the press, he has been unabashed in laying out a simple equation: if you want titles, this is what it takes.
But it can come with some unexpected prices.”
One of them, of course, was the initial decision to leave the Marching Band in Ann Arbor for the Alabama game in Dallas – about which former band director Scott Boerma was willing to clarify several misconceptions in our interviews.
But the bigger price might be the disaffection of thousands of loyal fans, some of whom have dropped their tickets. At Michigan, as of this writing, those numbers don’t seem to be too great, and the Big House still attracts over 100,000 passionate fans each game. But just down the road at Penn State, whose fans are every bit as rabid as Michigan’s, driving an average of four hours to see their team play in State College, you can see the effects of squeezing your supporters too hard.
The scoreboard scroller at Penn State’s third game, against Navy, announced the game’s attendance at ninety-eight thousand. As I write: “This would have brought heartbreak to the Michigan crowd, which had never dipped below one hundred thousand since 1975. But the Lions’ six-year streak had already been broken at the opening game of the 2011 season, months before Sandusky was arrested, thanks to the overpricing of tickets through a misguided and ill-timed seat-license plan called the “Step Program.” This had caused attendance to drop by about three thousand a game in 2010, when the program was introduced, again in 2011, and would again in 2012.”
My sources tell me the trend is likely to continue in 2013, and this brings us to a central issue for meccas like Beaver Stadium, the Horseshoe and the Big House: faith. From the book:
College football fandom depends on the same force that buoys our nation’s currency: faith. Since the United States left the gold standard, the US dollar has value only because billions of people around the world think it does. When a critical mass of people stop thinking that, our dollars will be worth no more than Confederate scrip—without the eBay memorabilia value.
College football isn’t nearly as important, of course, nor as serious. But the ecosystem works the same way. Going to a football game at Michigan, Ohio State, or Penn State is great largely because over one hundred thousand people at each stadium think it is. If the sellouts stop and the empty seats increase, the fans start questioning why they’re paying such incredible fees for a “wow experience” that cannot attract a sellout.
One friend calculated that taking her husband and two kids to the games—without dinners or hotel rooms—costs about $500 per Saturday, more than a day at Disney World. And Mickey never loses or snows on you.
“Just because you can charge them more,” Bill Martin told me, “doesn’t mean you should. You’re not there to ring up the cash to the nth degree. It’s a nonprofit model!
“Look into how much is spent on marketing, then look at how effective it is,” he said. “Look at the increase in men’s basketball attendance this year,” he added. Michigan’s top-10 men’s team played twenty games at home, attracting capacity crowds of 12,693 for fifteen of those games, with only two under 10,000. “That would happen if you didn’t spend one penny on marketing. You don’t have to do marketing at Michigan. We have the fans. We have the support. We have a great reputation. All you have to do is win. If you win, they will come. You just need to make it as affordable as possible for your fans.”
For all these reasons, my friends—who developed what they thought were lifelong habits of attendance as kids—have found themselves in the last few years rarely going to the stadium anymore.
The straw man of the hour was Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon. Brandon talks a lot about “brand loyalty,” but that combines two words that, to a college football fan, aren’t related. College football fans are fiercely loyal, but their loyalty is to something they most definitely do not see as a brand, rather something much deeper. If Michigan football ever lost loyal fans like my friends in the living room, who were raised on Michigan football, could it win them back?
Clearly, Brandon was betting that the endless branding would keep them in the fold. And perhaps if not, other fans could replace them.”
Both those questions, I believe, will be answered in the near future. And they will be answered by you, the loyal fans, who will vote with your feet, and your credit card.
[After THE JUMP: is college football worth saving? Does Bill O'Brien want to strangle Tim Beckman? What does the U stand for?]