that is nice bonus change
Bruce Weber: major-league dick? Illinois' head basketball coach flew off the handle in an attempt to defend himself from accusations that he's running a loose ship at UI in the wake of Jamar Smith's under-the-influence crash:
Weber also pointed out that "a kid in a program got arrested a couple weeks ago and he played in the next game." Without naming him, Weber was referring to Michigan's Lester Abram, who was stopped for speeding, then arrested for an outstanding warrant. That happened two days before Abram played for the Wolverines at Illinois.
"I don't know if anything was talked about with him," Weber said, his voice rising. "I don't think so because I get a lot of feedback. You're going to hold us to high standards, but that kid got arrested and he played."
When asked who he was talking about, Weber blurted, "I'm not going to get into it. But there was a kid you know who got arrested and he played a game. If you can't figure it out, maybe you're not doing your job," which seemed to be a veiled reference to columnists who have suggested he's not doing his job as effectively as he could.
The "outstanding warrant" was for a suspended license; essentially, Lester was arrested for not paying a traffic ticket. Jamar Smith got drunk, hopped in a car, and put someone in critical condition. He's charged with two felonies. There is no comparison between the two.
(Via Nate Fenno.)
Etc.: Wonk interview @ FanIQ.
All I've got at the moment. Coming monday: third down stuff for every team in the country. w00t.
12:02: I know I condemn Michigan to a painful loss by doing this, but this was going to be a painful loss anyway. Lavin's just gotten off a zinger, publicly wondering if UCLA's loss to Cal means they have to look for a new coach.
The much-cracked on Nike hammerpants-muscle shirt combo is a letdown and only looks kind of ridiculous.
Michigan starts with a TO, defends well enough to get a miss, and then Jerrett Smith gets downcourt for a transition layup. A couple of possessions later, Ohio State gets the same thing. And hey, Abram did something, penetrating from the high post against the zone and getting a FG.
Lavin: "both teams sharper than yesterday." Astute to point out that while Michigan shot 29%, Ohio State shot 0% yesterday. He then praises Michigan's ball movement with Dion Harris 29 feet from the basket with 6 seconds on the shot clock. And then he hammers this "no one can shoot at the United Center" theory in... color me a skeptic.
Um, Smith just penetrated and challenged Oden for a tying layup, then he throws the ball away in the backcourt. OSU timeout; they lead 6-8.
12:10 PM. Zone out of the timeout leads to a wide open OSU three; down. Another Smith turnover; Harris charge. I would normally go "arrrrgh" here, but... uh... whatever. 6-11 at the first official break. These BW3's commercias are awful.
Lavin claims that Michigan -- on pace for 40 turnovers -- has come out well offensively. Sims picks up his second foul already, which is bad because no one else has the raw size to contend with Oden. Watching Udoh trying to check him is comical.
Petway gets a slam to cut the lead to five... Ron Coleman attempts to check in still in his warmups, and the PBP guy says "you expect that from a freshman, not a junior." Tom Izzo's guys all know how to dress by the time they're sophomores. (Unless... perhaps Coleman's trying to one-up the hammerpants?)
Anyway... the Michigan offense consists mostly of the usual: passing it around the perimeter until someone has to try futile penetration and put up a tough shot.
I feel robbed that that Terwilliger guy from OSU doesn't have Anderson Varejao's hair. I mean, seriously.
12:22 PM. Michigan is frickin' airballing and bricking all manner of good looks from three. The solution? Reed Baker, Rain Maker! Or maybe he'll just check in and not do anything... except nail a three! You can't stop him. Now 11-13... Lavin calls Ivan Harris a "hired gun," ummm Boban... Lavin is going nonstop about Michgian's "pluck" or whatever... Lavin talks about the UC's great hotdogs... would someone please frickin' hire this guy?
It's 12-16 with 9:05 left in the half; they're showing Matta's kids eating pizza and talking about his gum thing; Michigan throws the ball from the frontcourt all the way to the backcourt. I hate this team sometimes. Oden gets a putback on the weak side. Michigan's playing pretty well on D, actually. Another turnover leads to a fast break OSU basket and they're up 8. Sims gets another offensive rebound (Deshawn, that is) and gets an and-one after an Oden foul. 14-20 at the under-8 break.
12:32 PM. Our RPI went nowhere with the Minnesota win. Lavin again with the UCLA stuff: "it doesn't take much to get on the hotseat at UCLA." Michigan has eight offensive rebounds on just 10 missed shots. I can't believe we have only ten missed shots. I can't believe we've rebounded eight of those. I can believe we have enough turnovers to require scientific notation. (Ron Lewis with another professional jumper from just inside the three-point line against our zone; Abram responds with an Abram three.) Lavin: "there are some advantages to the zone." Butler jacks up a three a million miles for the line; Petway tough alley-oop catch and conversion! PBP guy compares Petway to Michael Jordan. Um, okay.
Oden is playing against a guy who's tiny compared to his leviathan torso and continually goes to those hooks. Not exactly bulling Michgian over. Teams exchange threes; C. Sims throws up an ugly shot that leads to an OSU fastbreak; Lavin breaks out "sharing the sugar" again. Athletic directors of the country: Steve Lavin is the greatest coach in the universe and you would be a fool not to hire him. Under four T0, OSU up 6.
12:41 PM. D. Sims knocks down a jumper from just inside the line with the shot clock dying. Ees nice. Harris missed 3; OREB; Harris gets an Oden foul and shoots two. Ohio State fans must be livid about their defensive rebounding in this game. Lavin compares Amaker to Bill Walsh and Tom Landry... is Wooden not enough? Loose ball foul on OSU leads to more free throws. Lavin STILL comparing stuff to football. D. Sims misses the first end of a one-and-one. :( Conley puts in a circus shot to finish the half. Bleah. Down 29-34 when it could have been one.
1:05 PM. Oden finally spins to the basket instead of relying on that hook. Woo... Smith dives for a loose ball and finds Sims underneath all alone. Oden hook is missed. Oden has committed like three fouls in the first two minutes of the half... he's not in the NBA yet, jackasses.
Dammit, I hate replay. Those were clean. Grumble how about an upfake, Courtney? 11th turnover of the game. Oden hits one of those hooks; lazy Harris pass is almost a TO... Harris airballs a wide open three... HOW IS THAT NOT A CHARGE? Petway misses a putback dunk. We're down ten now at the under-four break.
1:11 PM. After the TO we throw another sloppy pass that's nearly a turnover. Conley gets Moosed by Petway; Conley's dad has a good laugh about it. Cook 3; OSU shooting 55% to our 33% and has only turned the ball over twice. Abram gets an open three and knocks it down. Smith does the same on the next possession and it's back to six. We fail to box out -- Abram! you're like 100 years old -- and Cook goes to the line for two. Sims apparently got hit on the throat trying to get a rebound on an Udoh make. Lavin wonders if he has "a sensitive Adam's apple." Tim Hardaway hates Steve Lavin!
1:23 PM. We're down five again, by the way. This game has a "Playstation 2" game track, which is really weird. Playstation 3? Udoh picks up a cheap foul; OSU OREB; putback, missed Michigan FG; fastbreak layup; we're down nine; TO.
1:27 PM. Horrible shooting, horrible Smith turnover... charge on Cook. Only OSU's fourth turnover. Smith hits a 3. OSU has given up way, way too many open looks at three when they've got Oden inside and no real Michigan post threat. Looked like Oden got totally hacked; no call; Matta T. In the Big Ten, everyone gets sodomized sooner or later. Harris knocks down both FTs and Michigan is within 4 with the ball. Cheap perimeter foul on Butler sends Abram to the line for a one-and-one... which he misses. Fourth time in two games against OSU that we've missed the front end of a one-and-one. Sims picks up a bullcrap foul trying to check Oden. Big Ten refs are garbage. Hey, how about another nothing foul on a Michigan post? Okay!
Abram wide open three in transtion -- OSU is just not getting out on Michigan shooters -- and Michigan is now within three. This is why I question Matta somewhat: his teams often display evidence they're not very well coached. Witness the lackluster performances against PSU, the offensive rebounding today, the defensive shortcomings, the weird addiction to that press in the first game. It doesn't matter if you can recruit Oden and Conley, though -- and given OSU's classes down the road, Matta's recruting is no freak occurrence.
Oden and one again. Hurray. TO under 8, Michigan down five with an Oden FT coming.
1:40 PM. Is a 16-9 run really a run? Smith gets himself buried under the basket; TO. Oden inside for another bucket. Taking over. Lewis fouled, going to the line, after an ugly Michigan possession. OSU about
to put this one away. Lewis hits both and the lead is 10.
The NIKE uniforms do look pretty stupid. Wide open Conley three; lead 11 after some Harris FTs. It looks like OSU has duct tape on their shoulders. There's a weird little silver patch.
If you met Greg Oden on the street, how old would you think he is? Like... 800, right? You can't be that enormous and craggy without having hit your eighth century. OSU alley-oop.
Yeah, this game's over. We're down 11 with under five and have just turned it over again. So let's talk coaching.
Amaker should be fired. I wouldn't be opposed to him becoming the women's coach if keeping his wife around is really important, though.
What are the chances he is fired? I don't know. Detroit newspaper columnists keep writing things about how he definitely won't be but there are rumblings from within the program that he's in trouble. There are probably two warring camps, which we'll call "Camp Fire Amaker" and "Camp Crispy Pops."
The Crispy Pops people speak the language of dumb and are thus natural allies of Terry Foster and Drew Sharp. Of course they'll report Amaker's not going anywhere. It may even be true, but I don't think it's a given. Martin has backed off his previous statements and is engaging in careful AD-speak. Usually it's "we'll evaluate him after the season" -- Michigan turnover -- which is a far cry from the "we're joined at the hip" of a year ago -- helpful ESPN graphic shows he's made one NCAA tourney in 10 years as a coach.
So I'm saying there's a chance. Unless Bill Martin wants the worst attendance in a long, long time -- this year was already the worst since 1982 -- he has to make a change. And it's not like Michigan, which loses Harris, Abram, Sims, and Petway, is poised to improve next year. The backcourt is going to be freshmen and Smith. Our posts will be sophomores and freshmen. We have no one to play the wing, really. Unless Amaker proves he's a different coach than ten friggin' years indicates, that team's headed for the NIT, too.
The most realistic candidates are going to be mid-major guys. I suppose we can take a run at Mike Montgomery or a fired Tubby Smith, but this program is no longer at the level where it can get a Gillespie from A&M. So you're looking at a guy from Winthrop or Southern Illinois or somewhere in the MVC, most likely. Or Mike Debord.
72-62 final. NIT games coming up at Crisler; I suggest you show up as an empty seat.
Zone Gives, Zone Takes
This fall Michigan's run game took a radical departure from the pull-, iso-, and draw-heavy early 2000s. In the place of plays like "argh not another second and long draw," Michigan implemented an Iowa-like zone scheme. At first glance the results were encouraging: Michigan vaulted from 44th to 21st in total rushing. Yards per carry (discounting QB runs and kneeldowns) shot up from 4.3 to 4.9. This despite Michigan featuring an unbalanced offense that ran 56% of the time. So bully for all that.
But there was one major issue that our stretch-play-mad offense developed during 2006. UFR aficionados already know this deep in the marrow of their bones, but now I can put it in attractive graph format.
Here is the Michigan offense's third-down conversion rate by distance in 2005:
(How to read the above: the thick line is the NCAA average. The thinner line is Michigan's performance. You want this to be above the line for an offense; green is good.)
Poor performance on third and long was counterbalanced by a surprising competence on third and short.
Here is the same graph for 2006:
(Disclaimer: this data is sparse and may not breach the threshold of official statistical significance. I don't know. I'm not a statistician. I do know that this is all the data we have and that it can be useful when coupled with previous observation.)
It does not take a jeweler's eye to see that the graphs are near inverses of each other, even down to the weird aberration at third and 11-13. The improved performance on passing downs is easily explained by an improved receiving corps and quarterback. But the startling regression on short yardage is inexplicable given the improvement the zone brought to Michigan's running game.
Unless, that is, you watched Michigan roll out three wideouts and run a stretch play into nine penetrating guys far too many times. Which, uh, I did:
Why do we suck on third and short?
I dunno. We were actually really good last year, but it seems you put us in third and short this year and we run out three wideouts and run a stretch play into nine guys. This doesn't work so good, evidently. What's wrong with lining up in a big set and cramming it down their throats? We have the personnel for that sort of thing.
Hopefully, Michigan will identify this ugly tendency and stop actively trying to turn third and short into punts. In Michigan's transition year perhaps it made sense to focus on the stretch to the exclusion of all else, but now that we've established hadouken, we should try to work on some shoryuken for situations when the objective is closer at hand.
Remember 2005? (It's okay to say no.) Pat "Moonwalk" Massey and an occasionally interested Gabe Watson were the defensive tackles. David Harris and yuck were the linebackers. Alan Branch toiled out of position at defensive end. The short yardage numbers were ugly:
Yeah... not so much this year. Anyone doubting Alan Branch in even the slightest tiny way should look at this, tremble, and shut up:
You can see 6'6", 330 of angry New Mexican hauling the tail end of that graph down like a black hole in spacetime. That's Alan Branch. 33 percent! On third and one! Six of eighteen! SIX OF EIGHTEEN!
We are all going to miss last year's defense very much. Except for the secondary, which I fear I won't miss at all.
This post exists because the Blog That Yost Built posted on it first. Many thanks.
Kings fans are excited about Jack Johnson. They should be; dude is a can't miss first-pairing NHL defenseman who, freed of the NCAA anti-fighting strictures, is liable to lead the universe in penalty minutes. A propensity for enormous hits and a wicked shot that can be launched accurately from any awkward position Jack finds himself in complete the package. It's a beautiful thing. But... uh...
...Jack Mother Fucking Johnson:
... When the Kings fans discovered video evidence of the Dancing Official Dad of Jack Johnson, they dubbed him "Mr. MFJ."
So, uh, there you go. Enjoy what's probably the last few games of the JMFJ era.
(Two more years? One? Come on, Jack, you know you want to.)
I'm updating the third down stuff I did last year with 2006 data and have ran into some unexpected snafus, which I totally expected. Coming ASAP.
YouDump: Awesome video from the 1927 dedication of Michigan Stadium complete with old-timey "Henry Tappan Hall hasn't cheered so loud in 20 years!" silent movie dialog. Highly recommended:
Some history of the MMB (check the "related videos: for a million performances including Thriller complete with Thrillerdance):
Six and a half minutes of owning Sparty. Perfect "go cry, emo kid" music for any Spartan fans wishing to self-flagellate:
Um... some sort of puppet NYSNC thing at Michigan Stadium that makes no sense.
Jack Johnson nearly kills BC goalie Cory Schnieder:
Snaps back. I mentioned the Scoop-Whitlock-Simmons throwdown over the All Star Weekend, yes? Well, Simmons responded like whoah:
Once upon a time, the late Ralph Wiley repeatedly proved an African-American sports columnist could write intelligently about racial issues without using his skin color as a crutch. After Ralph passed away three years ago, Scoop Jackson vowed to carry Ralph's torch on Page 2.
I just wish he'd brought that torch to Vegas.
This is worth mentioning: Simmons has been very good of late. He's still Bill Simmons and that comes with some baggage (most notably from my perspective: a seething hatred for the Pistons), but he seem to have recaptured a portion of whatever he lost recently when the backlash began in earnest.
Moose loose, hide the paella. Or whatever the Portuguese equivalent is. Graham Brown is currently wrecking fools in the Portuguese basketball league. Two recent game reports:
The MVP of the round goes to Graham Brown (206-F/C-84, college: Michigan) of Lusitania, who made 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. A strong center in this LIga, performing a great season so far.
(All of that is very, very [sic], and "Round," as best I can tell, refers to a particular game date during which all teams play.) But wait, there's more:
The MVP of the round goes to LusitaniaÂ´s Graham Brown (206-F/C-84, college: Michigan), a "deja vu" situation. For the second time ina row Brown heÂ´s the best, this time he scores 19 points and grabs 11 boards.
Brown's "Lusitania" team (maybe Amaker can coach them next year... ZING!) appears to be third in the league at the moment.
Etc.: The NYT on NCAA
enforcement, which is increasingly outsourced to highly paid law firms.
Update: I've been notified that this is our punting Space Emperor's birthday. Two decades ago, Zoltan Mesko burst from Zeus's head fully formed, but his real age is as unfathomable as the stars. Congratulations to us all for not dying before this transpired.
Since the last time we took a detailed look at the Pairwise, Michigan split a pair at OSU and a bunch of other teams played a lot of games. Western fell out of TUCland; UNO and Lake State entered. Michigan's TUC record is now a mediocre 8-7-1 with a 1-1 record versus LSSU and a 2-0 record versus UNO hovering around the cliff. Northern, Michigan's opponent this weekend, is not a TUC.
- Denver. We're in a worse spot now that DU has drawn UW in the WCHA playoffs. If they sweep that series they'll win COP and probably move past us in RPI.
- Maine. [Last time: a solid comparison we lost.] Maine did cough it up against UMass, getting swept, and that was enough to flip the comparison... but only by a tiny amount. RPI is virtually tied. They win COP and we have a fair edge in TUC. Maine's first round playoff series is against the same UMass team that just swept them; if they win the series they'll probably take the comparison at year's end. If they lose it's ours.
- Miami. [Last time: a tossup we lost.] Margins are razor-thin everywhere. Whoever finishes better in the CCHA tournament will win the comparison. If one team wins the consolation game while the other loses the championship game, Miami probably takes the comparison.
- Colorado College. Status quo: decent RPI edge and unassailable in COP. We'd have to lose our series versus Northern for them to flip the comparison with a long WCHA playoff run.
- Michigan State. [was: tossup we won.] We now have a big COP edge and a medium RPI one. If we beat Northern, State will have a hard time passing us even with a H2H win.
- Dartmouth. Don't think there's any way for them to flip the comparison unless they win the ECAC and we lose to Northern.
- St. Lawrence. TUC is now very tight, but we win COP and have a 0.1 RPI edge.
Locks: LSSU, UNO, MSU-Mankato, Cornell, [was: solid win]. Wisconsin, Michigan Tech, Vermont. [was: solid win], UMass.
- North Dakota. NoDak's in a weird situation: their first round opponent, MSU-Mankato, currently sits #23 in RPI. If they sweep Mankato it's likely they'll no longer be a TUC; the Sioux are 3-0-1 against Mankato this year. Even if they lose the Screamin' Eagles, they'll still be ahead of us in TUC, but we win COP and RPI is pretty tight.
- Boston College. [last time: tossup we lost]. They made up a lot of ground by sweeping UNH.
- Boston University. If they lose their series against Vermont we can pass them. Otherwise they'll be ahead of us.
- Clarkson. [last time: lock we lost... guess not.] We own COP, they have a sizable edge in RPI. TUC could get interesting. If LSSU drops out and Clarkson loses to a TUC in the ECAC tournament, we could pass them with a CCHA championship. It's a longshot but just possible enough.
Locks: SCSU, [was solid loss]. Minnesota, Notre Dame, UNH.
Our position has improved. A couple teams have moved into the Lock Win category, Maine is now in a dead heat with us, and Michigan State is now significantly behind us. Only the BC sweep of UNH damaged any of our comparisons.
With our OSU split things are basically the status quo: we are locked into the 7-12 range. Denver gacked it up against CC last weekend and fell to 10th, which significantly reduces the chances we'll get paired with them in Denver, but we're now 9th and staring down a bracket featuring Minnesota. There's a tremendous amount of jitter in the PWR and things will change enough between now and the tourney selection that it's not worth getting exercised about yet, though. One thing that does seem likely: a bid in Grand Rapids. Most brackets I see from educated prognosticators give GR attendance the benefit of the doubt and put Michigan there whenever possible. Since Notre Dame is within driving distance of GR, there's also some sentiment to put the Irish there. No offense to ND, but as a relatively untested #1 seed who caught us when Billy Sauer was at his nadir and minus Cogs and Jack, I'd rather see them than any other potential #1.
I'll forgo the microcosm bit: Saturday was not Amaker and Michigan writ small. It was in many respects the complete opposite. Michigan kept its turnovers under control, ran a semblance of an offense, and played what appeared to be generally smart basketball. Two small miracles happened: Amaker got a technical and Jerrett Smith, Brent Petway, and Courtney Sims completed a gorgeous pick-and-roll-extra-pass-dunk combo that looked straight out of actual basketball. Even though Michigan lost, it was perhaps the best game they played all season. The team looked competent. This was not Michigan basketball in a nutshell (Help! I'm in the NIT! What am I doing in this tournament! Sex me, Elizabeth Hurley!). Blaming Amaker for a mindbending missed Courtney Sims dunk and Dion Harris bricking the front end of a one-and-one is wanton. That was the universe being an asshole to me, personally, and not Amaker's fault. Michigan played well and Amaker deserves credit for that.
Where the condemnation comes in is in virtually every other game this season. For the sixth straight year, Michigan played stupid. They turned the ball over, gave up offensive rebounds, and wandered themselves into terrible shots all too often. They blew a huge lead and gacked up a win to Iowa. They got obliterated by an NC State team down to five scholarship players and missing their star. They were an awful, unwatchable basketball team most of the year; the OSU game was notable only as a remarkable outlier in the Amaker catalog, which stretches for six long years of head-pounding frustration.
But whether or not Tommy Amaker is a good coach or not is no longer all that relevant -- though for the record all available evidence indicates they he is not. He has had six years to produce a basketball team that fans are capable of watching for more than two minutes at a time without screaming something profane and punting the cat into the next room. This he has not done, and he must be fired, even if none of what's transpired over his tenure is actually his fault. The popular perception of Michigan is no longer the Fab Five, who are increasingly creaky old men in the NBA (or accountants or gym teachers or whatever). It is this:
You can't really mess with Duke, but Alex [Legion], we're like, do you know how many NITs they [Michigan] have gone to? Are you sure you want to play your college ball there, Alex?
Amaker, already tarred with NIT feathers, will labor under that perception until he forcibly changes it. It's yet another millstone hangs around the program's neck. Those who blame everyone except the actual people on the court for its problem must add it to practicing at the IM Building, OMG NCAA probation(!), Crisler Arena, Crisler Arena's lighting, the broken sign in front of Crisler, and Everything Ever when compiling their list of reasons that Michigan will never have a successful basketball program. Coupled with his obviously questionable ability to recruit and coach, Amaker's ability to get his teams to the NCAA tournament will only lessen in the near future -- and he's already 0 for 6.
Most of these excuses are not valid, anyway:
- He has labored under NCAA sanctions. A 2003 postseason ban robbed Michigan of another NIT bid, most likely, but by the time Amaker arrived the NCAA had levied all the punishment it was going to. Michigan got a second year of postseason ineligibility lifted and weaseled its way out of a reduction of one scholarship for four years by counting three against Amaker's first year. Since Amaker's second year he has operated free and clear of any NCAA penalties.
- Facilities kill recruiting. Many of Amaker's problems are of his own making. He offered role players Ron Coleman and Jarrett Smith as sophomores. Smith is the only point guard he's recruited since Daniel Horton largely because Michigan walked away from Tory Jackson, last seen helping Notre Dame -- not a program noted for its Billy-Donovan slickness -- to a nice seed in this year's tournament. He's blown scholarships on total nonentities time an again.
- He's cleaned up the program's image. This is not an accomplishment. This is the lack of a negative. Michigan should shoot higher than "not Brian Ellerbe."
Allowing Amaker to stay on any further is tantamount to waving the white flag. Even his wife is a very nice lady who's obviously better at her job than Tommy is at his. Even though Crisler is not a new building. Even though he had all those injuries two years ago. It doesn't matter. Now that he's proven beyond a doubt that a new coach can't possibly find worse results, he must be replaced.
Side Note: I am going to miss Brent Petway. It's a shame he couldn't have been a celebrated role player on an actual team, but when someone busts out a winged helmet for Senior Day...
They earn my admiration forever. Godspeed, Brent, and please enjoy blocking the everliving hell out of 5'10" Europeans.
Side Note II: Do you know what the first hit for "Tommy Amaker" is in Google Images?
Do you know why? An Every Three Weekly article I wrote announcing a haiku contest:
Do you know who she looks like?
Update 3/5: Upgraded Jonas Gray from red to yellow. Added MI QB Brendon Kay, NJ LB Marcus Witherspoon, MN LB Sam Maresh, MI WR James Wade. Linked to article on MN WR Michael Floyd -- he has an offer. Added CA WR Christopher Owusu. Noted that 'Bama and UF lead for GA S Darrell Simmons.
Removed IN OL Braxton Cave and IN WR John Goodman, who both committed to ND.
Editorial Opinion: Cave and Goodman off the board is unfortunate but not unexpected. Both come from heavy ND feeder schools in Indiana, and you compete against Notre Dame for white WRs at your peril.
Each linebacker who announces that he has a Michigan offer -- we must be up to 15 by now -- increases my disquiet about our six underclassmen. Michigan is recruiting like they have no linebackers with freshmen eligibility instead of six.
Jonas Gray is backing off his ND fixation quickly. Don't know if he has an offer yet. Michigan is being very selective at running back.
So... a week or so ago EDSBS and I paged through the Rivals archives and extracted per-class scholarship averages for each BCS school and conference in the country. Quickie conclusions: the SEC is a bit sketchier than the Big Ten, as asserted by Jim Delaney, but not nearly as much as this year's enormous seven-to-eight scholarship disparity implies. Still, an attempt to provide some ethical and statistical context follows.
How big is this gap? Over the last six years, the Big Ten has handed out 22 scholarships a year and the SEC 25. This doesn't sound like a huge difference, but it depends on your perspective. In hockey, there doesn't seem to be much of a gap between a player with an 88% save percentage and a 92% save percentage, but rephrased it as "player A lets in 50% more goals than player B" and the gap is brought into relief. Similarly, 25 and 22 seem close enough but flip it around: if we ballpark the number of redshirts at 50%, a team retaining 100% of its players uses 19 scholarships a year. Every year the average SEC team experiences double the attrition of the average Big Ten team.
Is this scholarship gap necessarily a sign of poor moral fiber? Not necessarily. There are two different arguments getting conflated into one here:
- SEC classes are overrated on Signing Day and during the media blitz that follows because their increased attrition rate -- something the numbers show is indisputable -- allows them to sign a bunch more players who will never make an on-field contribution.
- The SEC doesn't care about football people. [/Kanye]
Argument #1, as noted, can be accepted as a given. Argument #2 is murkier and requires us to consider...
What exactly are the ethical obligations schools have here? The conventional wisdom from rabble-rousing sportswriters and tut-tutting moral arbiters is that College Sports Is Corrupt And Evil for even thinking about permitting players who are either dumb or heinously underserved by their schools to breach the local ivy-covered educational edifice. And there is a point in there somewhere: bluntly, most football players are not good at school and very few of them would be in college at all if they weren't huge and fast.
But it's hard to see how anyone's life is improved by strenuously demanding Stanford-level academics of 340-pound maulers from rural Mississippi. Stakeholder by stakeholder:
- 340-pound maulers. What's the alternative for these guys? Most of them will never sniff the NFL but it's a shame to take away their shot at it for an irrelevancy. Even if their education is remedial, that's likely better than they'd have otherwise.
- Normies. A few extra kids in big lectures dragging the curve down doesn't negatively affect the rest of the student body except in the smallest and most incremental way, and even that is offset by the contribution a healthy athletic department makes to the overall life of a collegiate campus.
- The University Ideal. Athletes' altered admissions standards don't necessarily compromise the university's academic purity. There already exist certain segments of the student population for whom the ability to put together a five-page essay or solve a differential equation is irrelevant: music and art students are admitted primarily on their talents in their field of choice, not arbitrary standards for performance on a standardized test. Essentially vocational programs already exist: a journalism major's classes are of secondary importance to his work on the school paper; an art student's GPA is secondary to his portfolio.
Besides, the idea of a cloistered, ivy-covered thing where you learn all about like Kant and Hegel and Thoreau in intimate seminars went away a long time ago in favor of enormous diploma mills. Large state universities -- where virtually every sporting program big enough to be corrupt lives -- are more expensive vocational schools these days for the vast majority of students. (Private schools, being private, can do whatever the eff they please.)
Where the ethical dodginess comes in is when the 340-pound mauler's education is less remedial and more nonexistent. The latest Sports Illustrated has an article on Greg Oden that details his courseload: a five-credit Sociology 101 course, a five-credit History of Rock And Roll course, and two credits for being a basketball player. It's hard to work up any outrage about next year's top pick in the NBA draft getting shorted in his education, but how many players with far more uncertain futures are getting educations in avoiding education at schools around the country?* The general feeling is lots.
This is because the system has a disconnect. It rewards teams for keeping players eligible, not for educating them. It encourages Harrick-like "how many points for a three-pointer?" classes, academic... er... tutors, and History of Greg Oden majors because the only people judging how educated our mauler is have a deep conflict of interest. The scary idea is not how many kids flunk out but how many "graduate."
It is an article of faith around these parts that the SEC is the worst offender in this department. Anecdotes filter up: former running back Max Martin got in the doghouse because he didn't go to class. When someone in the department asked him why, he replied that he didn't know he had to, since all of his buddies down south didn't. (Later, Martin transferred to Alabama; the coaches at the time reportedly asked if he had been arrested for any felonies, then hung up, thorough background check completed. He lasted a semester.) Varsity athletes in non-revenue sports relate similar tales on recruiting trips. Anecdotes prove nothing, though, proving nothing, and schools all over the place have issues. (Clem Haskins at Minnesota sticks out.)
All we have right now are some numbers that take a look from 10,000 feet up that reveal something indistinct. Even if we drilled further down into these numbers, they would only tell us the lesser half of the story, and the questions about "what about the guys who remain eligible?" would remain unanswered.
*(Referencing Ohio State here is sure to cock an eyebrow or two since I am an avowed Michigan fan. The intent is not to single out OSU as an exemplar of bad behavior; the SI article provided a rare concrete look at the courseload of a star athlete.)