The MZone is dead, so someone's gotta do it.
There's only one man in the Big Ten Network footprint who's upset at the recent BTN-Comcast accord, and you get zero guesses as to his name. You didn't even guess, but you're right: Drew Sharp.
If you have a memory longer than two days you remember the minor scare that the BTN would agree to an eight-month preview only to be shuffled off onto a sports tier afterwards. It turns out said scare was caused by 1) sloppy media members not being careful with their words and 2) the exceptional paranoia of yrs truly. You probably remember every one of the hundred articles from every paper from Minnesota to Pennsylvania being very clear that this was not a possibility, that any move would be to a "broadly distributed" digital sports tier that 80% of Comcast subscribers already get.
Sharp either didn't read a single article on the deal or couldn't figure out what "broadly distributed" meant:
The Big Ten finally agreed to an arrangement ensuring that 94% percent of Comcast's subscribers within the eight-state Big Ten footprint would get BTN over an expanded basic cable package that, from Comcast's standpoint, basically amounts to an eight-month "free preview" to the network before Comcast can switch BTN to a special digital sports tier package in those pockets, not including local Big Ten home cities such as like Ann Arbor and East Lansing, where it believes the demand is highest.
This underpins the entirety of what passes for his argument: the Big Ten completely caved and should have done this a year ago. It is completely false. Drew Sharp doesn't even read his own goddamn newspaper:
The BTN and the cable carrier announced a multiyear agreement today that puts programming on expanded basic on Aug. 15 in states with Big Ten schools. After the 2008-09 basketball season ends, Comcast has the option to shift the network to its digital service.
Comcast has about 5 million customers with basic cable and 4 million with digital in Big Ten states.
Sharp's entire column is based on a misunderstanding of the situation that reading 600-word article could have cleared up. He cannot be bothered to even understand the deal before doing his Drew Sharp thing, which is to trash anything that does not win a championship.
And so, the eternal question: why? I'm not asking this in your standard "lolmsm" fashion. I am genuinely puzzled. Every sports fan I've ever come across in this town loathes Sharp. He is inextricably linked with two things: hatred and the Detroit Free Press. Why would the Free Press intentionally antagonize readers that now have a vast multitude of other options? Sharp's a dinosaur from the days when readers had a choice of Paper A or Paper B, the prime numero-uno example of why lazy-ass columnists rage against the internet: it exposes how very much they suck and provides alternative sources of attention.
Every column he writes pisses away more subscriber goodwill and drives consumers to less annoying sources. Even if he gets attention, it's the wrong kind of attention in a hotly competitive media environment.
Update: A Free Press minion has corrected Sharp's error to this...
to the network before Comcast can switch BTN to a digital package, which is more expensive than expanded basis.
...which is a nice try but only makes the column even more transparently nonsensical.
Incoming recruit Michael Shaw saw his high school track career end prematurely when the OSHAA ruled he had transferred to Trotwood-Madison illegally, but dude got it awwwwn at nationals:
Trotwood-Madison OH coach Randy Waggoner, honored earlier in the day as the meet's Coach of the Year, couldn't help blinking back tears at the courage and gutsy efforts of his Waggoner's Raiders team after they toppled favored Dominguez CA in the marquee 4x400 (3:11.33 to 3:11.41).
"I've been coaching since the '60's," Coach Waggoner said of his 46.4 anchor, Mike Shaw, "and I've coached a lot of guys, but he's one of the best."
Shaw had a huge meet for his team from Ohio, anchoring the Raiders to a Friday win in the 4x200 (1:25.18), then taking the 200 title (21.19 in a headwind) and anchoring the 4x400 win on Saturday.
"We all promised each other we were going to lay it on the track for each other," Shaw said. "Last race of the season, and even though I was dead from the 200 [earlier in the day], I told them that if it was close, I'm going to win it."
Aye, that he did:
Shaw also qualified for the final in the 100 M but finished last. Dunno what happened there.
Dude is ninja fast, though. He runs the forty in femtoseconds. I use him instead of fiber-optic cable. I had him take a message to South America and when he got there it was Gonwanaland.
MIKE SHAW IS FAST.
I was the perfect age to understand George Carlin as the guy who played Rufus in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, -- the greatest thing in the entire world when I was ten -- so the concept of him as, well, this guy...
...was a continual surprise and amazement. He was never the guy trying to be Johnny Cash to me. I saw Carlin once in concert and his act was all about the weird linguistic tics of English with a fair smattering of manners and other assorted pieces of bullshit that float through your adult life. He reminded me of the sort of computer guy who is way into open source and hacking -- hacking like "turn your XBox into a DVR/juicer" -- and can't deal with authority, man, and is very OCD about certain things. He was basically a big dork, which can be the only reason anyone would agree to be Rufus.
Here is your tenuous justification for the widespread eulogizing going on in the college football blogosphere. After Carlin's famous dirty-word related arrest in Milwaukee, he hit the talk show circuit:
When Carlin appeared on "The Dick Cavett Show" shortly after his arrest, he walked out to the sounds of "On, Wisconsin!"
I briefly wondered why Carlin was getting attention that, say, Tim Russert did not and then I remember that he was a word nerd who got off on saying "shit," "piss," and "fuck" in front of people and all was clear.
Didn't think so.
The MZone was also the first blogspheric victim of Colin Cowherd's douchebaggery; they indirectly set off the very first blowup between the internet and real people and eventually dragged an apology out of Lord Douchebag himself. Also, rumor has it one of the guys at the MZone was the dude in the GEICO "tiny house" commercial. They've accomplished more than you ever will, and now they're dead.
I can think of no better tribute than that put forth by Maize 'n' Blue Nation:
Godspeed. It was pretty awesome. (Maize 'n' Brew also takes a swing at goodbye.)
Update 6/23: Moved IL OL Michael Schofield to committed. More on Schofield from Varsity Blue and the Sun-Times. Linked to articles on NC S DJ Swearinger, SC OL Quinton Washington, IN OL Zach Martin, OK RB David Oku, PA OL Adam Gress, second on Gress, GA LB Devekeyan Lattimore.
Added TX WR Dwayne Peace.
Also, I'm not sure what to do with "wingedathletics.tk" but it looks like there's some legit info there. Also, a roundup article from Kornblut has some useful info. Zac Mattias committed to Wisconsin; this might be why.
Editorial Opinion: Recruiting board lives here.
Michigan's summer camp came and went... and nothing happened. There were few notable visitors -- MS DE Josh Boyd and TX WR/DB Dwayne Peace are the only guys with offers -- and no commits. (Schofield attended Michigan's one-day camp a couple weeks ago and was not on campus when he committed.) This is a major break from the Carr days, when the camp was a major event that saw at least a half-dozen offers go out and two or three commits.
- Recruiting continues to move earlier and earlier, making the summer camp offer considerably later in the process than it used to be.
- Rodriguez has had plenty of events over the summer, lessening the focus on the camp. Most prominently, Michigan's one-day senior camp saw a ton of high profile prospects in.
- Most believe Carr relied a little too heavily on summer camp as his energy level dropped.
Camp just ain't what it used to be; these days it's more important for juniors and sophomores.
Despite that it was mostly good news this week. Schofield committed unexpectedly and a couple of guys seem like they will drop in the near future. Those gentlemen are PA OL Adam Gress and IN LB Jordan Barnes. Gress is a three-star tackle who picked up an offer at Michigan's one-day senior camp a week or two ago and now says he has two leaders:
He says he now favors West Virginia and Michigan solidly over Penn State and Virginia. Neither the Nittany Lions nor the Cavaliers have offered yet. He plans on going to both their camps this summer, hoping to generate offers.
Gress has one other BCS offer from Rutgers. His opinon of M:
The school that is recruiting Gress the hardest is Michigan. "They offered a few days after camp and since then they've really been recruiting me hard," he said. "(Offensive line) Coach Greg Frey is really cool. He seems like a good all around coach. He's serious on the field, but has a good sense of humor too.
"The tradition at Michigan is great and everything there is just top-notch," he said.
"Coach Rich Rodriguez has a great reputation and I got a chance to speak with him briefly at the camp," he said. "It was only a bit of small talk, but he seemed like a good guy.
"Michigan is a powerhouse to begin with and I think coach Rod will do great."
Gress plans on deciding in a couple weeks after his camps and a visit to WVU. Tentative optimism re: his decision here.
Meanwhile, Rivals has a big headline indicating that Barnes is "ready to decide."($) At last check, Michigan had jumped into the lead($) after offering him; since then he's taken a trip to Alabama. They're the only real competition here (other offers were from Purdue, Oregon, Louisville, and Wisconsin; he hasn't visited any of those places). It's usually a good sign when the Michigan site is breaking an upcoming announce date, and it's better when possibly insane (in a good way) recruiting guy Jim Stefani picks Barnes out of his database and posts his info apropos of nothing. Wink wink nudge nudge. Optimism of a non-tentative variety reigns here. Barnes is a high three-star.
Also meh: GBW may claim NC S DJ Swearinger is "still strong"($) on Michigan, but that's softpedaling a very likely commitment to some SEC team or another, most likely Tennessee:
Swearinger now has 11 scholarship offers. He attended Tennessee's June 12 camp and admits he had to stop himself from committing. "Everything there just felt right," he said. "I actually thought about committing but I really want to take some other visits and see if anybody else could get me to change my mind. Right now I'd say Tennessee's chances are real good. It's like 85 percent."
Don't get your hopes up.
Offensive line items. This blog's been mewling for an OL commit for months; now it looks like Michigan could pick up a bunch of quality linemen in short order. Schofield (who, like, dude... runs the hurdles) committed and Gress won't take long to render a verdict. Meanwhile, are IN OL Zach Martin wants to decide before September and MA OL Brennan Williams keeps saying things like "from the first time I picked up a football I've had Michigan drilled into my head." Williams has an academics-oriented final six schools: M, BC, Maryland, Wake, UVA, and Duke(!). A guy with a lifelong Michigan fandom and that final six is very likely to end up in a winged helmet, IMO.
The above should help resolve the confusion about instate OL Zac Mattias, who committed to Wisconsin before even getting to Michigan's camp. It appears Michigan just
wasn't that interested. His coach:
But as Lloyd Carr's group of coaches stepped out and (Rich) Rodriguez's came in there certainly was a shifting of philosophy and I'm not so sure they were 100% interested in Zac and I'm not sure he was 100% interested in them anymore, which really opened the door for Wisconsin. Zac wants to play power football.
Instate OL Charles Chapman showed well at some camps and seemed like a guy who would camp and earn an offer but skipped out. This implies 1) Chapman felt it wasn't a good use of his time and 2) Michigan is pretty confident in a few of the guys they've offered.
Consider the OL concerns assuaged. Defensive end? Uh...
It was only a matter of time before an enterprising youngster did an end-around past the recruiting sites and used social media to interview recruits. A nascent site named Winged Athletics, currently on a bizarre .tk domain but hopefully moving to Wordpress or blogger soon, has done so, interviewing NC CB Terry Shankle -- not coming -- TX WR Josh Gordon -- really wants to commit but has a major gap between reported ability and offers -- OK CB David Gordon -- will visit -- and others. I'll wait a bit before incorporating the information on Winged Athletics into the board, but I present it to you for your edification.
Note: lately, I've been dumping a lot of things into UV that could rightly stand on their own as posts, and I'm going to try to split those things out in the future. Often I'll hold something for a day or two until the next edition and by that time every Michigan blog has already said their piece and I feel stupid. Also, much of the time I end up throwing a bunch of disparate stuff together -- that's kind of the point -- and it mucks up the categories. If you click "baseball" or something on the right sidebar you get posts with baseball, but often leetle pieces of baseball in a larger post.
So, anything that's news or news-y I'll post ASAP, and anything program-related and longer than a few lines will also get split out.
House. I should probably start plugging Michigan-relevant stuff I post on the Fanhouse since every couple days I get an email asking why I haven't covered X when there's a post up over there. So: Want Michigan tickets? Cut your legs off.
(It's already happening!)
On a more serious note, yes, it's a little annoying that handicapped fans get to cut in the season ticket line and get their PSLs waived, but those were probably conditions of the settlement and in the long run said settlement saved Michigan some coin, and a lot of seats.
The point. It's fashionable, and somewhat accurate, to bash Bill Simmons these days. But everything you need to know about why sports columnists are thrashing around in their death throes can be found in his post-Celtics victory column, and it's all about his dad. I am a little sick of Simmons' schtick, incredibly sick of Boston teams winning championships, and was sort of annoyed at parts of the column, but...
Dad bought a single season ticket for the Celtics for the 1973-74 season and carried me into the Garden for the next four years, sitting me on his lap and even letting me sleep on him during the famous triple-OT game against Phoenix in 1976. When I became too big to sit on his lap, he bought a second ticket even though we really didn't have any money at the time. And we've had those two tickets ever since. How do you repay someone for a lifelong experience like that? You don't. You can't.
...this and the discussion that follows it is about the strange thing fandom is, something only a lifelong fan could communicate. Often, I think, we start pulling for a team by proxy. I wanted Michigan to win when I was a child so my dad would be happy. When Michigan was trailing by 21 in the Water Buffalo Stampede Minnesota game, my girlfriend at the time wanted Michigan to do well so I wouldn't accidentally shove her off the couch again in rage. Now that I'm friends with the sort of Auburn fan who involuntarily screams things like "GO LESTER" on every run longer than three yards, I want Auburn to win.
At some point a switch flips and the rooting is no longer by proxy and now you're just sort of infected with this thing. And it makes you do and think very strange things about completely irrelevant external events, and coping and dealing with this weird little disease of passion requires a sort of support group.
In general, newspapers have chosen to strip the passion out of their sports section in favor of objectivity. They've been so successful at it that Bill Simmons -- a "blogger" according to sneerin' Rick Reilly -- is the most famous and influential sportswriter* in the country.
*(writer. Wilbon, Kornheiser, etc... TV.)
Man down. Alabama cornerback Lionel Mitchell, he of the severe back problems that sort of held him out of spring practice, -- brutal! -- is yet another medical scholarship recipient. Will Alabama make it? This is exciting!
Via MVictors, which helpfully picks out this sentence:
"If you can't make it intense, and make the environment an environment that elicits greatness, and get into that environment, coach, and make kids energetic about, and fired up about putting 500 pounds on their back and hittin' reps and running sprints until they throw up and pushing themselves to the absolute limits of their mental and physical capabilities then you're not doing anything, you've wasted your time with your science because they're not going to grow if they're not pushing themselves to those points..."
Dude, Faulkner just threw up in a bush.
Ohio State quarterback Antonio Henton has reportedly told his Buckeye teammates he's headed for GSU, an ESPN writer confirmed to the Statesboro Herald Wednesday. Georgia Southern's B-term for summer classes begins next week, and second-year GSU coach Chris Hatcher said he couldn't discuss transfers until then. Henton could not be reached for comment.
That leaves Ohio State with eh starter Todd Boeckman, Pryor, and thousand-year-old walk-on(? - I think) Joe Bauserman. They aren't much deeper than Michigan, though they are more experienced/hyped/diapered.
Dash. Wisconsin people say don't get your hopes up for Charter or Time Warner:
"I think they're going to be really, really lucky to get it done by football season," Prof. Barry Orton told The Capital Times. "It means they have to turn this around in a month and a half or so. That's tight. I would think we're safer to say (a deal will be done) probably by basketball season and maybe by the end of football season."
Yes, yes it does. NBC's extended their contract with Notre Dame another five years, and they're very proud of it:
"We are thrilled to continue this landmark partnership with Notre Dame," Ebersol said during a conference call. "Notre Dame defines who we at NBC Sports are: from the Olympics, to the U.S. Golf Open to Notre Dame."
From the Olympics... to golf... to Notre Dame football! NBC sports: the home of soft-focus quasi sporting events that only appeal to white people!
Meanwhile, the Rock Report writes from an alternative universe:
Who kills the magic at Notre ame? Often times it's the very network that supports it... NBC has been a good partner, but it is time ND started demanding more from NBC.
Past snark, the new NBC contract is lame for ND, the Big Ten, and college football in general. It guarantees seven home games and an eighth "neutral site" game that ND contr
ols the gate and TV for. If you fit that into a conference framework, ND has four home games and four road games like any Big Ten team was, then three nonconference home games and a "neutral site" game... if a Big Ten team tried that their nonconference schedule would be Wisconsin's. And with home-and-home slots given over to USC, Navy (-ish), Michigan, and three Big East teams, Notre Dame is going to have to push out traditional rivals like Purdue and Michigan State to make it work.
To ND fans' credit, they loathe this state of affairs as much or more than Michigan fans hate the idea of the MAC-MAC-Utah at best-ND nonconference schedule that seems to be Michigan's fate for the next thousand years. Again, I say: the NCAA can stop this if they care to. Force five true road games a year. Limit commercial time in broadcasts. Stop trying to squeeze every nickel out of a supposedly nonprofit enterprise.
Chances of this happening: zero.
Etc.: New IU blog Cannot Falter highlights some interesting chatter from the Knight commission on APRs and infractions; here's a theory as to why Mendenhall hates Zook. 20 questions on M from the OZone... IMO, not up to Gerdeman's usual standard. Recruting notes from UMHoops.
(What a good job I did of cutting this down.)
It's done-done, announced-done, done. The niggling detail discussed last night:
Under the terms of the agreement, Comcast will initially launch the Network as part of its expanded basic level of service to promote it to the majority of its customers residing in states with Big Ten universities (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, with the exception of the Philadelphia region which will launch on a broadly distributed digital level of service) starting August 15th. (Comcast does not have systems in Iowa, the eighth Big Ten state.) In Spring 2009, Comcast may elect to move the network to a broadly distributed digital level of service in most of its systems in these states
Expanded basic for a year, then a move to "broadly distributed" digital basic. No tiers. Outside of the footprint, Comcast can put it anywhere, which means sports tier.
This is a major win for the BTN, which now covers a majority of its footprint and will do so for the foreseeable future. Now the focus shifts to Time Warner, Mediacom, and Charter.
A day after I trash the Free Press for focusing on things like Tae Bo instead of information, Mark Snyder puts out an interesting piece about the '97 championship and the ballboys that saved it. This is literally the headline: "How 2 ballboys stopped opponent's signal stealing, saved UM's 1997 title."
The story: two student managers ferret out that Northwestern has somehow stolen Michigan's offensive signals, and run over to the other side of the field at half time to urge Lloyd Carr and company to change things up. After being bottled up in the first half, scoring thirteen points, Michigan explodes for... uh... ten in the second. Without the student manager's contribution, Michigan could have lost to Northwestern by negative one touchdown. The final score was 23-6.
Okay, so the story is oversold. It's still pretty interesting as a tall tale from the past, and you should read it if you've got a few minutes. My take-home message was vastly different from what was intended, I think.
Some key passages:
"There was a guy on their sideline that day, and he had our signals down pat," Datz said. "Every time, he would scream into the defense what we're going to do -- pass or run -- and he was almost always right. ...
"They were blowing up draws, calling our counters and destroying our screen passes -- all a big part of our plays that year. I was just screaming mad. Youtan and I are thinking to ourselves, 'This guy has us.' "
Raise your hand if you think you could predict with 80% certainty whether a Michigan play would be a run or pass. It is possible they just co-opted a cranky 50-something Michigan fan.
Anyway, the kids run across the field and tell Carr early in the third quarter. This is the result:
"I absolutely remember that," Carr said recently. "The reason I do remember it is I don't ever remember anybody else offering advice or information during a game.
"Those are all bright guys that get into those positions. But that's the only time I remember one telling me something."
But that still wasn't enough for the coaches to change their signal calling. So later in the quarter, Datz said he ran around the field to repeat the message to Magnus.
The play that finally sold the U-M coaches on the need to adjust came on a third-and-25 with less than three minutes left in the third quarter. That's when U-M tailback Clarence Williams ran a sweep -- an odd call for that down and distance -- and two Wildcats grabbed him behind the line of scrimmage.
It's only after this play that Michigan grabs Jason Kapsner and starts sending in multiple sets of signals. But this is the kicker:
In 1995 and '96, Hansburg said, all he had to do was watch U-M center Rod Payne, a one-handed snapper who apparently placed his opposite hand on the ground for a running play and on his thigh for a passing play.
This was the plot of an episode of Coach. When the Minnesota State Screaming Eagles play for the national championship in the Pioneer Bowl, ditzy assistant coach Luther Van Dam (Jerry Van Dyke) gets concussed and has to watch from the hospital, where he notices one offensive lineman has totally different stances for run and pass. He calls in the tip and Hayden Fox gets a Gatorade bath. I was 14, and 14 years later I remember this clear as day.
Reading Johnny's piece yesterday was the love side of my love-hate relationship with Lloyd Carr. This is the hate side. ONE: Michigan didn't bother employing multiple signal-callers -- a zero-cost activity -- from day one. TWO: It took them a full quarter and a second prodding to actually act on the information provided by the student managers when the cost of listening was zero. THREE: They ran a sweep on third and twenty-five. FOUR: Michigan football was outsmarted by Jerry Van Dyke.
Silver spoon, coal spoon
None of this should surprise you. This was a program that would run 95% of the time it lifted its starting wide receivers. Lloyd Carr thought deception and trickery had their place in football, and that place was Northwestern.
When you are at a place like Michigan and you have been inculcated in the culture of the program for the vast majority of your coaching career, I think you take certain things for granted. One of them is the belief that a paramount focus on execution is enough. That if you motivate and educate and drill better than the other team, you will win. It did very well for Bo until he got to Pasadena, and it did pretty well for Carr until Tressel showed up (and, it must be said, Carr had a real run of rotten luck re: actually getting to use his senior quarterbacks), but it was always giving something away. You have a limited amount of time with your charges every week; there is always time to work on your poker skills. Michigan's been bad at poker forever.
Rich Rodriguez focuses on execution and motivation -- see Barwis -- but he also makes deception his stock-in-trade, creating a modern version of the triple option that has intricate variations and one end result: linebacker confetti. In a way, the spread 'n' shred is terribly predictable. They run, they run, they run. But you do not run more than all but five other teams and finish top five in YPC three years running unless you know when to bluff and when to raise.
Rodriguez comes from a wholly different background than Carr, coming up through the ranks at NAIA schools and Tulane and Clemson and West Virginia. Until Pat White showed up he never had a significant talent advantage agaginst the vast majority of opponents. He never, ever had the luxury of lying back and thinking to himself "if we out-execute the opponent we will win," and it shows. He invented a whole new offense and used it to exploit inefficiencies in recruiting. To seal the Sugar Bowl against Georgia he called a fake punt, exploiting inefficiencies in fourth-down playcalling. For the past seven years he has played Moneyball at West Virginia.
To me, the exciting thing about Rodriguez is not necessarily his system but his mindset. He's looking to squeeze out every ounce of expectation, make every resource stretch as far as he can, and now he's been provided resources few other coaches have. When Moneyball moved to Boston in the personage of Theo Epstein, Pedro Martinez got a hat:
My sophomore year at Michigan was 1998, one of only two years during the long and glorious reign of John Cooper that featured an Ohio State victory in the Game. That one was in Columbus and so I watched in a crowded dorm room that quickly settled into a pissed little funk. A few doors down, we heard the wrong kind of shouts coming from another room. Someone was pulling for Ohio State. Loudly.
It's inevitable that a few poor souls who grew up fans of Ohio State want to be engineers or lawyers or American Studies PhDs (#1 in the country, baby! woo!) and common sense leads them to That School Up North even if their skin crawls at every block M they see. And surely there are a few Michigan fans who wish to learn the fine art of motor vehicle repair. They still carry the rivalry in their blood.
Thirty years of back and forth smack-talk. "1968 - ONE WE WON'T FORGET" meets "HOW ABOUT 1969?" Three different people mention that "Roses are Blue." One Ohio State fan scribbles scores from the Ten Year War down. And, of course, "FUCK MICHIGAN." You stay classy, etc.
This is the heart of rivalry, at once stupid and glorious.
*(Which is a totally fascinating book I demand some Ohio State blogger dissect thoroughly. Page 82 is titled "The Causes of Interceptions" and starts "Since the vogue nowadays is to think positively, some pedagogues no doubt will look askance at such an obviously negative approach as this." Woody Hayes may have been a linebacker-punching, hate-filled lunatic but the number of coaches who would deploy "pedagogue" as a snooty put-down in 2008 is between zero and Mike Leach, and you have to respect that.)