Cartoon via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.
Previously: Practical Matters, Mike Forcier and Mike Schofield, Toney Clemons and countable hours, Stop bringing up Andrew Maxwell, and Rodriguez Press Conference Liveblog.
One nickel to the man who guesses the speaker of this statement about how much time college athletes put into their sports:
"Once you get past 40 hours, you're really pushing it, I think."
You get a nickel if you guessed NCAA president Myles Brand. He said this in response to a survey last year that found D-I football players spent 45 hours a week on football-related activities. So, yes, literally everyone is doing it. That's not a defense if the it in question is punching old ladies in the face, but it is when we're talking about an arbitrary cap on effort imposed by a bureaucracy. It's a defense when ludicrous doubling of NCAA regulations are alleged; if the stated average time put in by college athletes in an NCAA-sponsored survey is more than double the NCAA-mandated maximum, then that provides important context. Michigan's nine-hour Sundays—baldly asserted to be violations with zero wiggle: "every week started with a violation"—are plausibly legal.
Do the math: one day is gameday and one day is free by mandate. 45 hours / 5 days = 9 hours per day. Take away eight for a full eight-hour gameday and you still end up with 7.4. Clearly the NCAA regulations do not encompass all the hours players spend on football.
This article, which provides 100% relevant context, was not mentioned by the Free Press.
Why was Toney Clemons anonymous? Clemons told ESPN's Joe Schad that would confirm the allegations, and was completely willing to speak on the record. It stretches belief to think that the Free Press didn't ask him and he didn't talk. He's at Colorado now and there are no possible repercussions aside from some guys writing unflattering things about him on the internet. And yet the Free Press report failed to name him or any other player they took a quote from except the freshmen who were undoubtedly talking about Michigan's voluntary offseason program.
Why is this? I go back to the paragraph that describes the people they talked to in impressive, but vague detail:
For this report, the Free Press interviewed 10 current or former players and the parents of four others. In separate interviews, five players gave almost identical accounts of how the program is run, and a sixth player confirmed most of the descriptions. Other players, as well as parents of additional players, discussed the conditions in general. Several players declined to be interviewed at length but did not dispute the allegations when asked specifically about them.
Ten "former or current players," of whom five or six are responsible for the quotes in the story and the description of the Rodriguez program. One of them is Toney Clemons. The other four or five… well, I'm sure anyone who's followed Michigan football over the last year and a half can mentally insert candidates for the other spots. Why not tell us that the core of the story included current players, and how many? It's not like asserting any specific number of current players is going to endanger the anonymous whistle-blowers.
The Free Press chose not to provide this information, instead choosing to leave this vague, and spurring question after question about team unity, or the lack thereof.
Meanwhile in Florida:
To combat any complacency, Meyer has ordered strength coach Mickey Marotti to design the most difficult offseason that Florida's ever had.
"If there's any resistance," Meyer said, "that guy's not going to play."
This is a direct statement from Urban Meyer that a player who "resists" his punishing, "voluntary" offseason training regimen would not play—a bald assertion of power incompatible with the idea of voluntary attendance—and was not mentioned by the Free Press. Neither was this 2005 Ivan Maisel article on the Florida program titled "Offseason? Not anymore for title teams" or this USA Today article on increasingly mandatory "voluntary" summer conditioning that cites Mike Massey.
In fact, nowhere in the entire suite of articles is another program brought up except when two current members of Michigan State's team say—surprise!—they don't violate rules. Just like Mike Forcier and Mike Schofield.
Tom talked to one of the freshmen quoted in the piece, who said he was upset with the way his words were used.
"I told them I lift weight at 8 until 10:30, go to class, and come back and work with [veteran player]. [Then] we go watch film. They turn it all around."
All of that is voluntary activity in the eyes of the NCAA. (It is possible, but unlikely, that the weights were countable; in any case the quotes from the freshmen were vast misrepresentations.)
I bring all these items up because I was really angry at the reporting in the article in a way that I wasn't even when the Free Press gave us the by-the-numbers on what happened with Justin Feagin. I got upset later at the Rosenberg column on the thing, which launched a broadside at Rodriguez* without bothering to call Feagin's high school coach or check out his record. It is totally legitimate to find out what happened and then describe the facts, and that's what the original reporting on the Feagin case did.
But the article in question here was not that. I've been struggling to phrase it the right way, to come up with the right angle on it that adequately expresses the issue without descending to That Guy On The Internet stuff, and it turns out a reader—lawyer, naturally—did it for me:
I'm in Seattle this weekend so I was up late enough last night to read and digest the Rosenberg complaint. I call it a complaint because I'm a defense lawyer in Atlanta and read complaints written by plaintiffs' lawyers all the time. Their favorite tactic is to take a benign or easily explainable fact and put it in the worst light possible so as to sort of taint the defendant from the outset. I guess I didn't realize that Rosenberg was a columnist or some sort of writer employed to persuade readers to come to agree with his opinion rather than a journalist employed to investigate and report facts. He could not have written the entire thing in a more damning way - which is just what plaintiffs' lawyers do, except their job is to advocate on their client's behalf.
I have another email from a different lawyer who makes the exact same comparison.
The article arranges things to advocate for its position. It is not objective. It mentions major violations, and the fact that Michigan has never had any, and suggests that these qualify. Not once in its vast breadth does it mention the near-universal existence of similar practices or what that implies for the likelihood of NCAA sanctions. It purposefully obscures the distribution of current and former players in the ten asserted sources, four or five of which are excluded from the information provided below.
I'm a blogger and a Michigan fan and totally public about my thoughts and loyalties. You know where I'm coming from, and can evaluate the arguments in this space based on that information. Since I wear my bias on my sleeve I have to deploy facts and precedents and reasoning convincing enough to overcome that. Rosenberg and the Free Press are clearly biased but wrap themself in a cloak of objectivity that disguises the intent behind the artfully arranged statements and, if you didn't happen to be a close observer of Michigan football, makes it appear like Rodriguez is a monster. Is this objective?
That's right: Chris Webber. Bill Martin's announcement, two sentences in a press release, had "the ominous tones of a bad, old script". Is it even pretending to be objective anymore? I guess. But not well.
After the press conference today I asked Mark Snyder if he knew what a non-countable hour was. He refused to answer. I asked Michael Rosenberg, and he said yes. We then got into a conversation about the idea that many of the hours cited in the Free Press article were not countable and therefore would not trigger NCAA sanctions. I asked him why the article did not mention this, and he said it did. Here how well that assertion checks out:
At no point does the article mention the idea that some "football-related activities" are not counted:
Players spent at least nine hours on football activities on Sundays after games last fall. NCAA rules mandate a daily 4-hour limit. The Wolverines also exceeded the weekly limit of 20 hours, the athletes said.
That's it. The only wave to the idea that some of the time was legitimate in the eyes of the NCAA is this passage:
The players said the off-season work was clearly required. Several of them said players who failed to do all the strength and conditioning were forced to come back to finish or were punished with additional work.
“It was mandatory,” one player said. “They’d tell you it wasn’t, but it really was. If you didn’t show up, there was punishment. I just felt for the guys that did miss a workout and had to go through the personal hell they would go through.”
"Clearly required" then washes away the idea that any of the time requirements in the program were voluntary for the rest of the article. There is no mention of what the alternatives to doing the additional work were. Were they "we yank your scholarship" or "you won't play"? The former is a violation; the latter is life. I suggested to Rosenberg that players probably had no idea what counted as mandatory to the NCAA and what didn't, and that it was ludicrous to believe Rodriguez could be flouting NCAA regulations so vastly for eight years without a hint of trouble. He blinked, and asked what my name was.
The Free Press systematically overstated their case by omitting contextual information and misrepresenting quotes about voluntary workout programs. They have repeatedly raised the specter of major, program crippling sanctions. They took a side, and if that side turns out to be wrong the people responsible for the story should be held responsible for their errors in judgment.
They won't, of course. If and when Michigan releases the results of its internal probe and announces they've come up with either nothing or a pu-pu platter of secondary violations, people will laugh at NCAA enforcement, cite the Jerry Tarkanian quote, and laud the journalistic effort that went into proving football players play a lot of football.