Mike Lantry, 1972
Note to poll voters: if you did not receive an email from me, please let me know. The first poll comes out Monday and you must be apprised of URLs and such.
SB Nation's excellent Missouri blog Rock M Nation will be joining the BlogPoll this fall, and they've thrown out a question to their readers: how the hell should we put together our ballots? This shows seriousness, which is an admirable quality in a voter, but a lack of deference to the poll's President For Life, which is neither admirable nor uncommon.
I've learned over time that I can't tell people what philosophy they should follow when compiling a top 25 poll. Or, rather, I've learned I can tell people what philosophy to follow and they'll just do what they want to anyway. There's only so much control you can pretend to have when the most respected college football blogger around thumbs his nose at some of the poll's published guidelines and the funniest one slaps up haphazard ballots 30 minutes after the deadline, usually after IMing me something like "oh crap give me a few minutes."
So vote how you like, with one exception. This is the exception: ballots designed to call attention to themselves are verboten. The lone spiked ballot in poll history came from Notre Dame uber-blog Blue Gray Sky after the first week of the season. Because I am stupid I deleted it, but by BGS's own admission it was designed to highlight how silly releasing a college football poll after one week of play is. This is a perfectly fine argument to make, and one I might even agree with, but your ballot is not the place to make it. Some voters tend to call attention to their ballots by their voting patterns, whether it's Straight Bangin's sadly prescient Michigan pessimism or SMQ's resume-only first week ballot or Double Extra Point's uncanny ability to have the most boring ballot; these are okay because their notability is a side effect of the voter's habits, not the entire point.
Other than that, feel free to be stupid -- because you will be stupid, iron law of polling, that -- in whatever way you want to. But I do think a unified philosophy benefits polling. SMQ highlights how goofy this polling enterprise can be:
But no one involved with any of the mainstream polls, despite their all-too-frequent use of the term, has ever defined exactly what they mean by the concept of the best team, or how they reach that judgment in comparison with that team's peers. Most of the time, the terms are described in an abstract way, as a mental sum of perceived parts, as if there existed a secret rating system, EA Sports-style, that could settle the issue once and for all.
The BlogPoll's concept of the best team in a sentence: the BlogPoll attempts to rank teams in order of season quality. This is impossible to do before the season and silly to do in the first few weeks, and at these times the poll should be regarded as an approximate guess of which teams will end the year with the highest season quality.
Suggestions to effect this ideal follow.
Once you have enough information, vote by resume only. What qualifies as "enough information" will vary from voter to voter, but I'm sure most will agree once teams are eight or so games into their schedules there's plenty of evidence to go on. Personally, by week five I try to excise everything except results. At that point there's no reason to look at future schedules, no reason to look at preaseason expectations or shiny offensive baubles. Just the facts, m'am.
When you don't have enough information, vote by your guess at team strength, not schedule. In an ideal world everyone would play an identically difficult schedule and this wouldn't be an issue. This is far from an ideal world, and some team just have nummy soft schedules. This is often cited as a reason to rank them high -- SMQ explicitly calls it out as a factor in his preseason ballot -- and drives me crazy.
Place great importance on schedule strength. The poll's greatest development in three years of existence was its continued, extreme skepticism of a Hawaii team that barely eked out victories against poor WAC teams and found itself in the top ten of most major polls and in the BCS against Georgia. That ended with Warrior limbs flung across most of New Orleans and everyone hurredly pretending like that never happened. You should take schedules into account more than it seems the other polls do, IMO.
Style counts. This is really tricky. If a team has three fluke plays go against them and loses a game it statistically dominated, what do you do? Dan Steinberg's pet Vegas Top 25 virtually ignores fluky results and thus can claim to be a better predictive device for upcoming games. The BlogPoll aims to be descriptive, not predictive.
The sad reality of college football these days is that schedules are so watered down and multiple teams will have the same records or nearly identical records at the end of the year but they'll have taken different routes to get there. So, yeah, team A had a better season if it crushed all comers and were under serious threat only a few times while team B squeezed by by the skin of its teeth, assuming schedules are approximately constant.
Back to SMQ for a pithy summary:
That is, assumptions about "the best" are frequently proven wrong by actual events. The best system, then, is not a rigid assessment of perceived strength, but an extremely fluid, strictly achievement-based approach that systematically rejects assumptions and accounts for chaos -- the inevitable black swan -- as the natural order. If South Florida's resumé is the second-best in the country in late October, then yes, it's the second-best team at that point. But probably not for long.
Co-sign. Man the ballot stations.
7/25/2008 - Dienhart 1, MGoBlog 0 - Pwned
So I'm sitting in the "media workroom" here at Big Ten Media days after the two hour-period this morning when all the coaches and players sit at different tables and answer questions posted by print and radio media. Some guy in his late twenties with close-cropped hair sat at the next table, prompting the bearded old hand next to me to ask: "totally overwhelmed yet?"
"Not really," he responded.
"Just so much information" was the reply, and then the old hand lapsed into thoughtful silence.
These are the fruits of my labors, the sum total of information I have to bring to you based on my penetrating questions that I envisioned would stun the people I questioned into mute appreciation of my knowledge before offering clear, concise descriptions of exactly what I wanted to know:
"I'm not going to tell you."
"I'm not going to answer that question."
"We strive for balance."
Other people did manage to get off queries that were answered interestingly, but very few. For a prolonged period, I sat at the table Rich Rodriguez was condemned to and tried to get one of the above-mentioned Penetrating Questions in but was constantly cut off by two adversaries I began referring to in my head (and notes) as Enormous Forehead Guy and Smarmy Young Journo, who would leap in at the perfect moment with a question of incredible uselessness like "who do you think has more pressure on them, the players or the coaches?" and then nod sagely as Rodriguez spun out his answer. In this case: "it's equal" was followed by few meandering sentences that served to completely rebuke the very idea of the question in the politest way possible.
This did not occur to the adversaries. I am communing with football, Enormous Forehead appeared to think. This is great stuff. SYJ looked on very seriously indeed, as if Rodriguez's answer to this purposeless question was a papal edict on an ethical matter of exceeding complexity. The force at which my eyes rolled back into my head threatened whiplash; fortunately everyone was fixated on Rodriguez and my lack of professionalism went unremarked upon. (And what better way to get away with it than post it on your blog? Mooohahaha!)
It was at this point my tolerance snapped. I'd like to say I stood and gave a thunderous edict that completely changed journalism forever. I didn't. Instead I typed this into my notes:
"who has more pressure, the players or the coaches?" I WANT TO DIE. I AM SITTING TWO FEET FROM RICH RODRIGUEZ AND CAN'T GET A QUESTION IN AND MORONS OF MORONLAND ARE MORONING MY TIME AWAY FUUUUUUCK
I was stressed! I felt much better, though.
It was at this point that Tom Dienhart, who I've considered a dolt ever since he penned a really awful column that chastized an imaginary avatar of Michigan fandom he dubbed "Boy Blue" or "Blue Boy" or something like that, [turns out it was "Big Blue Boy" -- even worse -ed] asked a simple question about how Scott Shafer came to the attention of Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez said "hey, Tom," shook Deinhart's hand, commented negatively upon his Spartan green Rivals.com polo, and spoke. Thus spake the pope (the following is a paraphrase, not a quote):
I first looked into Scott when he was at I was at West Virginia and we were playing Maryland; Shafer was at Northern Illinois when they beat Maryland and Alabama, which is a big accomplishment when you're Northern Illinois. It wasn't necessarily just the schemes but how hard and aggressive they played. Then I saw what he did at Stanford, beating USC. He's a good fit for what we want to do.
This is pretty interesting, and it led into an entertaining anecdote about Shafer talking to his wife Missy, who asked "you aren't going to be changing jobs again, are you?" (Shafer had, at this point, been at three schools in four years.) Shafer downplayed the idea, headed off to a coaching convention, and immediately got a phone call from Rich Rodriguez.
Meanwhile, I'm just sitting around fuming. My notes before the paraphrase above: "Scott Shafer. Dienhart just asks my question." I have been owned.
Why am I here? Have I gotten anything useful out of this at all, or would my time have been better spent in the Batcave (read: mother's basement) pounding out a preview of Minnesota or something? I have absolutely no better handle on how Michigan will do this year. I don't even have the barest smidge of news to bring you: the two pieces of actual news I've heard have been common knowledge on the internet for a month. I couldn't get anyone to say anything even remotely interesting. I'm pretty sure Travis Beckum thinks I have Down's Syndrome. A rousing success, this is not.
The one saving grace is going back to that Dienhart piece, though, which remains as putrescent as it was when I hammered it a couple years ago. It's really bad: shallow thinking, lame jokes, no justification for any of its premises. Theory: being a good beatwriter/interviewer-guy and being a good opinion merchant are not just unrelated skills but are somewhere near mutually exclusive. I spend my time combing the internet for any piece of novel information I can find, reviewing games and compiling stats, reasoning out things I think about football and compiling evidence to justify my beliefs.
Beatwriters try to eke out interesting responses from interview adversaries. They're believers in the holy grail of access, which necessitates thinking on an entirely different level. It's not real unless it comes from your access, so only things that people say are real. (And often they're deliberately not saying anything.) Take just about any newspaper article or radio piece or anything, really, reported in the objective style favored by the media these past 50 years:
- THING is controversial.
- "THING is great, I love thing" says person X.
- But group Y says THING has PROPERTY OR EFFECT that is negative.
- "I hate THING, think of the children" says person Z from Group Y.
- But person X of group W disagrees.
- "I disagree," says person X.
- Ain't it a funny old world?
This is just about the complete opposite of critical thinking. There is a skill in it; it is not my skill, and my skill is not theirs.
I did transcribe some stuff of debatable utility; that's coming up.
I still believe Kirk Ferentz was someone's first choice to be Michigan's next head coach. We'll never know, but the preponderance of rumormongering from here and elsewhere is hard to deny absent any contradictory hypotheses.
From a neutral perspective, Ferentz was a weird first option. He was successful... three years ago. Because of that rapidly receding success he was paid six kazillion dollars a year. And he was way ethical if you ignore the spate of questionable characters he recruited over the past few years and the housing scam he ran with his son.
But by God, he looked like an honest man. Nice jaw. Appealing salt-and-pepper hair. Aura of calm politeness at all times. Super hot daughters and strapping lad sons. People began to question his performance, but most of the opinion directed at Iowa's extended run of Facebook terrorism was meta-criticism: "isn't it weird no one's giving Iowa heat"?
Ladies and gentlemen: heat. This Iowa stuff that's gone down? Heavy. In sum:
- Cedric Everson (remember him?) and Abe Satterfield allegedly have nonconsensual sex with another Iowa athlete.
- The university suspends and eventually boots Everson and Satterfield, but pressures the victim into handling it "in house," allows Everson to move in with his girlfriend(!) three doors down from the victim, and generally appears to have no inclination towards actually doing something until the victim files formal charges.
- Some recruit is chased by eight cops whilst naked, racking up Iowa's 634th arrest in the last three years.
The mother of the victim was so incensed she released a scathing letter originally sent to Iowa eight months after she originally sent it. This is the money quote:
"University of Iowa's character was non-existent. It is disappointing to say the very least," the alleged victim's mother said in a phone interview. "We were told the school will take care of it. We will keep it in house. We will be swift. We will be just, and you don't have to worry about it."
And this is the money quote about Kirk Ferentz, Michigan's probable first choice coach in November:
Speaking of dorm rooms, the alleged assault occurred in a "ghost room," registered to a third player but unoccupied. After the incident, according to affadavits obtained by the Press-Citizen, Ferentz ordered the player to reoccupy the room, and a different player moved into the room as well. The room was never secured, evidence was never gathered from it, and the incoming players cleaned all the mess from the alleged assault. [mess including a used condom and sheets with an "orangish-reddish" substance on them -ed]
When I read the Press-Citizen article the first time around I thought it was a case of university bureaucracy exhibiting spectacular stupidity, not malice. This is not. It certainly appears like the behavior of the athletic department -- keep it "in house" because Iowa's got a first class prison right next to the chem building, throw away the evidence contained in the ghost room, keep it vague in the media -- was mostly concerned with whether or not they could salvage the careers of two defensive backs.
Black Heart, Gold Pants has been calling for mass resignations, and I'm not quite there. But Kirk Ferentz is alleged to have instructed two football players to
destroy evidence in a rape case involving another football player occupy a room he knew was a crime scene. [Update: clarification; Ferentz probably didn't say "you go destroy that evidence"; he did tell someone to move into a room that he knew would be of police interest.] If that turns out to be true (since that information is based on affadavits given by the players who moved into the room, that's highly likely), Ferentz immediately sets up shop one level above Dave Bliss in coaching hell.
We've heard an awful lot about Rich Rodriguez's lack of character this offseason because he changed jobs, tried to reduce his buyout, and said some silly things about the truth coming out. This was despite a seven-year run without a hint of NCAA sanctions and repeated weak showings in the Fulmer Cup. Meanwhile, Iowa is imploding and it took the most serious allegations leveled at a college head coach since the Bliss incident for anyone to notice. If you hadn't listened to Kirk Ferentz and Rich Rodriguez, hadn't seen pictures of their wives, couldn't hear their accents, this would all be terribly mysterious.
But we have and it's not. The whispered accusation about Rodriguez -- he's a hillbilly -- is true. He shops at Costco and is only interested in Rudyard Kipling if he's 17 years old and benches 400 pounds. He makes goofy jokes at press conferences and occasionally says things you wish he hadn't. He does not inspire third-party confidence like Bo or even Lloyd did. He is not a titanic figure astride the globe, molding young men into little Academic All-American Adonises. He is resolutely, publicly human, full of venal sins. He is impossible to truly adore in the way college football fanbases wish to adore their proxy father figures. He punctures the "Michigan Man" myth every day. He, like Zaphod Beeblebrox, is just this guy, you know?
And, like, okay. I'm nearly 30. I have a father. I just want someone who will win football games and not utterly disgust me when the scales fall from my eyes and the preposterous lie is exposed for all to see. I prefer my heroes poor and uncertain of their future, anyway.
Derrell Hand, left. Marques Slocum, right.
This is the worst kept secret on the internet: Marques Slocum is not expected back this fall due to academic problems. It's not official, but both premium sites are dropping dark hints and Doug Karsch has broached the topic on the radio. It's pretty close. And I wonder what the point is.
Most outside the Michigan fan tribe will remember Slocum for his answer to the question "do you have any pets, and if so what do you have?" Slocum replied "i got a fuck lion now come fuck wit me," EDSBS posted it up, and the internet ran away with it. After that he was either awesome or just another "sterotypical person," as the last comment on that EDSBS post declares:
What a stereotypical person….now people will feel sorry for him for absolutely no reason. We are all that much more dumb after reading his slow minded retarded azz response.YO…Im da Shiznit homey…bow down or get rolled up…Holla..what an idiot.
("Josh W" left a web address where he could be found: http://faebook/. Holla, idiot.) His departure will no doubt be memorialized unkindly by those with an axe to grind against Michigan's efforts to walk the tightrope between Duke football and Mississippi State academics.
To Michigan fans, Slocum was the big, affable recruit who tore up the Army All-American bowl and wanted to come to Michigan so badly he wandered in the wilderness for two years to do so. This is was a unique occurence. The occasional Michigan recruit will fail to qualify, and once in a very long while Michigan will follow the kid through a prep school year. Slocum and Arizona cornerback Quinton McCoy are the only ones I can remember. "Draft and follow" -- where a school signs a guy with almost no chance of qualifying in the hopes of building up some sort of loyalty for when the kid exits JUCO -- as practiced by much of the SEC is right out. Michigan's admissions department is legendarily strict about transfer credits. Except in very rare cases, JUCOs need not apply.
So when Slocum went to Milford Prep for a year and still didn't qualify, that should have been the end of him. Instead, Slocum enrolled without a scholarship, spent a year getting eligible, and finally managed to get on the field in 2007. This was truly dedication to an idea. He's gone now, a few tackles and the occasional UFR +1 the product of two years effort.
Effort of a sort, anyway. The penultimate comment on the "fuck lion" interview paints a tableau of a lighthearted kid caught in a place he has no use for and has no use for him. A table setter is included:
I had a class with this kid for one day - greatest experience of my life. He now has a drew gooden beard. Oh god. Awesome.
Comment by umich1 - February 19, 2008 @ 4:33 pm
Re: last comment
I, too, had a class with Marques Slocum my senior year of undergrad. It was actually one of professor Hagen's classes, one day, we split into groups to do survey work. When one of the group members called on Mr. Slocum to answer a question, he said, "Aw, shit, I don't know - I'm not used to standing up in class. I'm used to standing up to get awards and shit." And then he left the room.
Comment by Shane - April 21, 2008 @ 9:17 pm
Like much about Marques Slocum, this awesome and sad at the same time.
The NCAA has created an underclass of physically talented players toiling in junior colleges or small I-AA schools, robbed of the opportunity to ply their wares in the place most likely to turn their talents into a career. Slocum now joins them. I am trying to figure out whether or not APRs and entrance requirements and so forth and so on are forces for good. They certainly seem virtuous, but I think Slocum would have been a lot better off in a system that let him major in something like "Athletic Performance" and take his shot at the NFL. I also think that the existence of "Athletic Performance" across Division 1 would provide a drag on academic achievement by would-be athletic performers, the vast majority of whom won't even start in college, let alone make a dime in their chosen sport.
But many, if not most, of these guys already assume they're going to the show and screw off anyway. One thing I definitely think: Division 1 schools should be given the option to extend a player's scholarship after his eligibility expires without it counting against the cap. This funnels some of the pots of money currently being spent on athletes to the athletes themselves and provides them an opportunity to actually focus on the classes they're taking after they've been disabused of the notion they are destined to be the next multi-millionaire.
That wouldn't help Slocum, but it might help out a range of kids who spend their time and their bodies chasing a dream that is, for them, unattainable.
(via I Love Kiki)
As for Marques, well... he's left the room. Shit.
I'm out for the fourth tomorrow. See you Monday.
I get an email that starts like this about every week:
So I'm searching for reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming football season.
I got the first one ten seconds after Manningham, Mallett, and Arrington all lit out for the NFL or Arkansas. Each one drips through my consciousness, leaving a residue of paranoia. We can't really lose to Utah, can we? Or Minnesota? Or Notre Dame?
SMQB says... maybe!
The main reason I'm so much more skittish about the Wolverines, maybe the sole reason, is because of their nearest parallel entering the season: 2007 Notre Dame. This is not a logical comparison based on probabilities. ND was in the same kind of woeful shape, personnel-wise, heading into last season, and everybody knew it; the Irish didn't get a vote in anyone's preseason top 25, either, off back-to-back BCS games. Losing a slew of quality career starters will do that for a team. But it won't necessarily result in the worst record in school history, or one of the worst offensive performances of all time; there are no demerits for failure to predict depths so completely outside of anyone's experience. Applying the same pessimism to Michigan based on one nearby, at-the-ready example is beyond hyperbole, if for no other reason than the Wolverines won't be facing ten straight bowl teams to open the season; even if they did, two of them would play in the MAC and another from the Mountain West. It's not the kind of schedule that will let any halfway respectable outfit bottom out that quickly.
The incredibly incompetent Notre Dame team of last year also pops up in the season prediction of Nittany White Out, though as a Penn State blog that actually posts things like "Rich Rod is a traitor and a snake" their opinion must be taken with a grain of salt large enough to encompass a decade-long losing streak.
This is what every emailer that starts off with some plea to reassure him wants to know. Nobody expects to beat Ohio State or even make a New Year's Day bowl, but Jesus, did you see Notre Dame last year? Humans are exceptionally good at modeling others' emotions, especially when said others are rivals of yours, and it takes little cognition to arrive at the conclusion that Notre Dame 2007 was Not A Good Time.
Under a pale November sky in Palo Alto, Jimmy Clausen accepted a snap from center, trotted back a step or two, and dropped his knee to the ground, sending the final dozen or so seconds of the game clock spinning off into the history books. A strange, sullen silence draped itself over the Irish fans in a crowded bar on the north side of Chicago as it slowly dawned on everybody that the season was finally over. Thank you, sweet merciful Heaven, I thought to myself, taking a long swig from my tenth or fifteenth beer of the night, this godforsaken season is finally over.
Michigan fans appear to be kept up at night by the spectre of that emotion at year's end. And it's not just the Notre Dame parallel that many of the college football digerati draw that bothers. No one outside of East Lansing and Ann Arbor paid it any mind, but the Michigan basketball team just hired an offensive genius from Morgantown, bestowed upon him a rickety roster that was a poor fit for the genius's genius system, and had a Notre Dame of a season.
After a midweek game against Minnesota that saw 100 weirdly enthusaistic Gopher fans outcheer the entirety of a dismal Crisler arena, I wrote a post titled "It's Only Dark In Your Hearts" that concluded like so:
I have four more tickets sitting at a drawer at home; I don't know how many more of them I'll use. [I turned out the answer was 'all of them', by the way. I'm a sucker. -ed]
The idea of feeling like that after a football game against Minnesota haunts many.
So why won't this happen? First... it might. Michigan is unlikely to sink to the horrific depths Notre Dame did solely because of math -- hooray Gaussian distributions -- but failing to reach a bowl would be a real blow to the internet argument capabilities of Michigan fans. And that's totally within the realm of possibility, especially since the Big Ten mandates all 7-5 teams have to be picked before 6-6 teams. So this is not a "ha, that won't happen, you are stupid for attempting to predict the future because my ability to predict the future is much better than yours."
HOWEVA, I don't think it will. And I think so for these reasons:
1. Rich Rodriguez is not Charlie Weis. Charlie Weis is an immensely overweight sociopath who had never coached a team stricken by youth or, really, accomplished anything whatsoever without the aid of the opponent's defensive signals. Rich Rodriguez forged West Virginia into a national power despite operating with recruits far less highly touted than the ones Michigan has at his disposal.
This is by far the number one reason available. Outside of ludicrous pipe dreams like Urban Meyer or Mack Brown or Pete Carroll, Rich Rodriguez was perhaps the bar-none top candidate for any college looking for a coach. The only reason he was not a ludicrous pipe dream was the poisonous relationship Rodriguez had with West Virginia's dysfunctional leadership. He is proven. Over seven years at West Virginia he took a program that had fallen considerably during the last few years of Don Nehlen's tenure and turned them into West Fuckin' Virginia, and he did it with his system and his coaches and his players as the head coach. Charlie Weis was a below average offensive coordinator who left his team no worse off after he left.
Raise your hand if you think the Bill Stewart era is going to go well at WVU. Yeah.
How did Rodriguez do this? I don't know. I do know that some people can relate to the sort of people who end up as really serious college football players, can motivate them and organize them and inspire them, and that this is a real skill possessed by a very small number of very rich people.
Weis, meanwhile, implemented a half-ass version of the spread 'n' shred he would abandon a quarter into the season, neglected fundamental things like teaching people how to block, and alienated his players to the point where several of them bolted the team midseason despite plenty of opportunities for playing time. It was without question the most abysmal coaching performance at a BCS school since John Mackovic experienced armed insurrection at Arizona. It was three standard deviations below the mean.
2. Lloyd Carr was not Tyrone Willingham. Notre Dame fans' favorite excuse for the failings of Weis E. Coyote -- Tyrone Willingham likes golf -- was legit. The 2004 Notre Dame recruiting class was almost impossibly atrocious:
|SIGNED LETTER OF INTENT||Pos||Stars||Ht||Wt||40||RR|
Take away the names and this could be Michigan State or Oklahoma State or any crappy team that manages a couple of good athletes and backs it up with garbage. It gets worse when you consider that two of the very few contributors were the first rats to flee the Good Ship Weis: Darius Walker entered the NFL draft early (in the same way I could enter the draft: he was undrafted) and Ronald Talley decided he'd rather start at Delaware than start at Notre Dame.
But wait! It's still worse: in reality the class was worse than that as a lot of the guys in it got overrated because they committed to Notre Dame. There is one area in which recruiting sites do fudge rankings, IMO, and that's with the tail end of the class at big deal schools. Almost anyone who commits to Michigan as an unranked or two-star player will end up with three stars if the services have time to rerank them. Normally this is a small effect, but when ND starts bringing in a full class of questionable recruits the big school bump becomes a major factor.
These guys were the seniors and fourth-year juniors on last year's team, and the class after them -- the Willingham-Weis transition year -- was hardly better. Michigan's recruiting has never been close to that dire. The 2005 class was #6 nationally; 2006 was #13. Even with the outflux of talent to the NFL and Ohio State's bench, Michigan has far more talent than Notre Dame did last year. The Willingham classes started out with hardly any talent and then experienced major attrition; at least Michigan is starting from a lofty perch.
The magical 2007 Notre Dame season was a lethal combination of awful coaching and awful talent. Michigan has excellent coaching and okay to good talent. I'm not saying you should make plans for New Year's Day, but this ain't gonna happen en route to 3 and 9:
Clearly, there will be growing pains. A season like Tressel's initial foray at Ohio State -- a bleh 7-5 that would have been 6-6 without JohnNavarre's exceptional generosity -- is well within the realm of possibility. And by that I mean "is the most likely outcome."
This should be fine with you. Michigan needs a year to pupate, and then?
Editor's note: Originally published in August, 2007.
Editor's note: The Notre Dame numbers were disputed by some ND readers; ND's site lists two majors for everyone or a major-minor pair or something; it was confusing and I just ticked down a bunch of majors; I wouldn't take the assertions of grouping below seriously. Suffice it to say that guys with 6th to 8th grade reading levels apparently average a 3.5 at ND; they're probably not taking astrophysics.
I'm sure you've all seen this by now: Pat Forde got ahold of Jim Harbaugh, who continues to cram his foot in his mouth so far that his testicles are grumbling about the new neighbors, about this whole academics thing. In the article Forde is shocked, shocked(!) to find out that shepherding is going on at Michigan. He strokes a beard he does not have thoughtfully and comes to conclusions that show deep concern for the welfare of student athletes. He credulously accepts this outrageous statement from Harbaugh...
"I learned from a great man named Bo Schembechler that you speak the truth as you know it. It may not be the popular thing, but you speak your mind. Everything I said is supported by fact, but the thing that has come back is the personal attack on me, not looking at the issue whatsoever." The most bothersome personal attack to Harbaugh came from Hart. Even more bothersome was the fact that nobody within the Michigan hierarchy has publicly reined in Hart for blasting a well-decorated alum.
"Mike Hart is just repeating their messages," Harbaugh said. "When I was a player, there would have been nobody saying anything like what Mike Hart said about me. We would have been too afraid of the consequences. That wouldn't have happened while Bo was there. I'm glad as the head coach of Stanford I don't have to deal with those repercussions."
...without stopping even to mention that the very person Harbaugh's throwing under the bus is that "great man" and to say that Mike Hart wouldn't have said the things he did if Bo was around when his weak response to Jamie Morris claiming the same thing of him was "that's not the point." It's awful and self-contradictory and the work of a man just trying to get some Serious Issues brownie points. (Braves & Birds eloquently presents these arguments, btw.)
Harbaugh is right about one thing: if Bo was around, Hart wouldn't have said those things. But that's because Bo would have said them after turning Harbaugh's larynx into goo with the power of his mind. And yet he persists:
"Everything I said," Harbaugh told me this week, "is supported by fact."
No, Jim, it isn't. You're full of crap.
One of the things that makes (most) college football fans deeply uncomfortable is the increasing implausibility of calling the athletes they revere "student-athletes" in an era when enormous men whose applications would have been laughed out of the admissions office had they been sized like normal humans spend 40+ hours a week on football virtually year-round, taking classes like "History of Rock and Roll," or "AIDS Awareness" or "Golf," to use several unfairly OSU-exclusive examples, solely because said classes will allow them to participate in their chosen sport with a minimum of what can only be said to be extracurricular fuss.
It's this inversion of "extracurricular" that bothers people. Whereas once manly men who are men occasionally deigned to travel around the country beating other manly man men's heads in whilst catching up on their Proust, today a bunch of lunkheads with no business in college are exploited for their cheap labor and then cast aside without any hope of employment because their educations were a sham. Yea, truly we have made our collegiate athletics programs dens of iniquity, striving for the unholy dollar at the expense of these men's future.
I don't swear much on this blog, but I have one word for this. It follows in its own paragraph for MAXIMUM EMPHASIS.
Oh, that felt nice. I'm going to continue. Fucking ridiculous, facile, idiotic bullshit, the exact kind of balderdash fronted by people who willingly fail to notice that the American university experience has changed so radically that 20% of my high school's graduating class, including several people I would be surprised to find out could change a light bulb, ended up at Michigan because it serves their hopelessly outdated and idealistic view of the world.
I find the lazy, stupid athlete stereotype irritating, and always have. Is intelligence a simple vector that you have or do not? I have always been very, very "smart" and felt that I got far too much credit for an aptitude for standardized tests and memorization when I knew that the guys truly marked for success didn't have truculent attitudes towards people that were slightly different from them. There is a certain sort of social aptitude that I lack that, a particular sort of empathy and intelligence far more important in the world than the ability to sort out the Pythagorean theorem in no time flat, but how do you measure that? I'll tell you: find my salary and that of class president Tom O'Neill, a man the entire world liked, in ten years and get back to me. I'll lose. So who's to say that Mario Manningham isn't "smart"? I've watched him perfectly set up cornerbacks time and again, burning them deep when they know what's coming. Even if Manningham couldn't spell his own name -- something I am not asserting is true, for the record -- he would still be a particular sort of genius.
I mean, Jim Harbaugh has to be some sort of verbal moron but he's still in the 99.9th percentile when it comes to being a quarterback. In one particular aspect of his life, Jim Harbaugh is indisputably brilliant. We shouldn't look down on him just because there are six-year-olds with a better sense of what an appropriate public discourse is.
This is my point: the sort of people who end up successfully completing four or five years in a major collegiate athletic program are probably marked for success even if their major is the easiest available. There is academic research that backs this up. Via Malcolm Gladwell:
In the 2001 book "The Game of Life," James L. Shulman and William Bowen (a former president of Princeton) conducted an enormous statistical analysis on an issue that has become one of the most contentious in admissions: the special preferences given to recruited athletes at selective universities.
Athletes, Shulman and Bowen demonstrate, have a large and growing advantage in admission over everyone else. At the same time, they have markedly lower G.P.A.s and S.A.T. scores than their peers. Over the past twenty years, their class rankings have steadily dropped, and they tend to segregate themselves in an "athletic culture" different from the culture of the rest of the college. Shulman and Bowen think the preference given to athletes by the Ivy League is shameful. Halfway through the book, however, Shulman and Bowen present what they call a “surprising” finding. Male athletes, despite their lower S.A.T. scores and grades, and despite the fact that many of them are members of minorities and come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds than other students, turn out to earn a lot more than their peers. Apparently, athletes are far more likely to go into the high-paying financial-services sector, where they succeed because of their personality and psychological makeup. In what can only be described as a textbook example of burying the lead, Bowen and Shulman write:
One of these characteristics can be thought of as drive—a strong desire to succeed and unswerving determination to reach a goal, whether it be winning the next game or closing a sale. Similarly, athletes tend to be more energetic than the average person, which translates into an ability to work hard over long periods of time—to meet, for example, the workload demands placed on young people by an investment bank in the throes of analyzing a transaction. In addition, athletes are more likely than others to be highly competitive, gregarious and confident of their ability to work well in groups (on teams).
Shulman and Bowen would like to argue that the attitudes of selective colleges toward athletes are a perversion of the ideals of American élite education, but that's because they misrepresent the actual ideals of American élite education. The Ivy League is perfectly happy to accept, among others, the kind of student who makes a lot of money after graduation. As the old saying goes, the definition of a well-rounded Yale graduate is someone who can roll all the way from New Haven to Wall Street.
(You must listen to a man who is smart enough to spell "elite" with an accent mark.)
The greatest asset Michigan football players have is their status as Michigan football players. This is true when they are being guided through college and afterwards. The values imparted by the ruthlessly competitive but outgoing and collegial environment surrounding a big time football program are far more useful in one's effort to find a well-paying career than any honors humanities degree you care to name. And the primary role the modern university is to take money from undergraduates in exchange for the ability to get a well-paid job.
So, no, Jim Harbaugh isn't wrong when he says Michigan takes football players who would otherwise not be accepted and shepherds them through majors that are not particularly challenging. No one denies this, but there is a difference between not denying an obvious, universal, and (most importantly) non-harmful tactic that helps a disproportionately minority and poor group of people into the middle class and not denying that Michigan is selling these kids out because they don't care.
One of the frequently useful posters on Michigan message boards summarized a retrospective on the 1997 national championship team that appeared in The Wolverine's season preview magazine. It's not comprehensive but it does provide a significant indication that Harbaugh's assertion that "the people that adulated them won't hire them" is completely off base:
The Wolverine 2007 preview magazine did an article on the ten year anniversary of the 1997 co-national championship team. They profiled some of the players, and here's some of the results:
Zach Adami (C) - I looked at mgoblue.com to find his major, but they didn't have a profile for him. Adami is a trader on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, trading options on the Eurodollar. He's aslo a partner in a small company, Redrock Capital Management, with former U-M linebacker Dave Dobress and several others.
Jeff Backus (OT) - General Studies major per mgoblue.com and starting O-lineman on the Detroit Lions.
Kraig Baker (PK) - Sports Management and Communications. He's an account executive for Management Recruiters International, based in Chicago. He's also worked for a manufacturing company in Indiana, managed a restaurant in Virginia Beach and played some Arena Football.
Dave Brandt (OL) - School of Education - majored in Elementary Education. Played 3 years in the NFL. Says he's a stay at home dad.
Kevin Bryant (WR) - General Studies. He owns his own company, KB Solutions of Detroit, which privdes a variety of electrical services.
Mark Campbell (TE) - Movement Science. In his ninth season in the NFL.
Clint Copenhaver (LB) - Sports Management and Communications. Sales representative for sporting goods giant Mizuno--covers state of Michigan for the company.
Scott Driesbach (QB) - Physical Education. Playing football with the Columbus Destroyers of the Arena Football League.
Juaquin Feazell (LB) - Psychology. Works as a medical malpriatice attorney in Georgia for the firm Hall, Booth, Smith & Slover. Received his law degree at Georgia State ans has been practicing law for four years.
Jay Feely (PK) - Physical Education. NFL with the Falcons, Giants and Dolphins.
Chris Floyd (FB) - Mgoblue.com doesn't have a profile for him. Floyd played in the NFL for three season. He then worked for six years with Michigan's S&C staff. Now teaches at Westside Christian Academy and works with Farrell Sports Concepts.
Steve Frazier (C) - General Studies. He's a commercial airlines pilot for American Eagle Airlines.
Ian Gold (LB) - Political Science. Seven years in NFL with Denver and Tampa Bay.
Brian Griese (QB) - Griese majored in Environmental Policy--I believe he got permission to design his degree from LS&A. Tenth year in NFL.
James Hall (DE) - Sports Management & Communications. Played with the NFL since college--Lions & St. Louis.
Tommy Hendricks (S) - General Studies. NFL through 2004.
Jeff Holtry (LB) - No major listed on the roster. Worked at Abbott Labs in Ann Arbor. Now serves as an orthopedic equipment representative for Stryker Corporation.
Chris Howard (RB) - No major listed on mgoblue roster. Just says he spent a few seasons in the NFL.
Steve Hutchinson (OL) - General Studies. NFL pro-bowler for two teams.
Jon Jansen (OL) - Physical Education major. NFL career with Washington Redskins.
Diaollo Johnson (S) - Sports Management and Communications. Works in real estate in Detroit.
Dhani Jones (LB) - It just says he was in the Residential College. Has played in NFL through 2006.
Marcus Knight (WR) - Computer Science. Plays with Columbus Destroyers in Arena Football League.
Eric Mayes (LB) - Earned his master's degree in educational technology in 2000. Completed PhD program in educational physicology at Howard University. Serves as an adjucnt professor at Howard and is Dean of Students at an elementary school in Washington, DC.
DeWayne Patmon (S) - Sports Management and Communications. Played two years in NFL. Lives in San Diego and has done a bit of acting.
Marcus Ray (S) - General Studies. Social worker in Columbus, Ohio school system. Will be moving to Ann Arbor to become graduate assistant for Wolverines. Coached football for several seasons at Ohio Dominican.
Rob Renes (DL) - Secondary Education major. Brief career in NFL due to injury. Teaches at middle school in Muskegon and is finishing master's degree in educational leadership at Western Michigan this summer. Looking to be a school principal or athletic director.
Russell Shaw (WR) - No link to profile on roster. He's currently playing in the Arena Football League.
Aaron Shea (TE) - Sports Management and Communications. He's played in the NFL since college.
Chris Singletary (LB) - Sports Management and Communications. Currently Michigan's recruiting coordinator. He spent seven years at International Management Group.
Glen Steele (DL) - No profile listed on roster. NFL career. Currently graduate assistant at Michigan.
Tai Streets (WR) - Sports Management and Communications. Long career in NFL, now teacher and coach back in Illinois (high school, I assume).
Rob Swett (LB) - No profile listed on roster. Owns his own home building company in Austin, Texas. Here's a quote from him: "My career at Michigan, and that year, helped define part of who I am. The success I've had in my life can be attributed to that season and learning what it takes to be a winner."
Sam Sword (LB) - Sports Management and Communications. Spent some time coaching. He lives in Florida and works in the city's recreation and parks department.
Daydrion Taylor (S) - Doesn't list his major, but does say he was in Kiniesology. Returned to Texas and is teaching high school, coaching track and the secondary on the football team.
Anthony Thomas (RB) - Sports Management and Communications. NFL career with Bears and Bills.
Jerame Tuman (TE) - Movement Science. Still in NFL.
Jason Vinson (P) - Biology. Pharmacist at hospital in Memphis, TN and professor at University of Tennessee pharmacy school.
Andre Weathers (CB) - Industrial Engineering. Plsyed pro football for a few year. Currently working as an industrial engineer and coaches defensive backs at Flint Central High School.
James Whitley (CB) - Sports Management & Communications. 3 seasons in the NFL. Doesn't say what he's doing now.
Josh Williams (DT) - Psychology. Just finished his NFL career. Currently involved in building and developing homes.
Eric Wilson (DT) - Sports Management and Communications. He's played football in Florida and Canada with the CFL. Owns a succesful cigar lounge in FL.
Charles Woodson (CB) - Sports Management and Communications. Still playing in NFL.
Chris Ziemann (OL) - Sports Management & Communications. Had a short career in NFL. Works in sales for Cintas in Florida.
Note a distinct lack of homeless crack addicts. (Again... not definitive, but far more evidence than Harbaugh has ever marshaled for his preposterous assertions. Hell, I have more evidence that Harbaugh is not a nice person at all than he has evidence Michigan abandons its ex-players.)
"I see how it's done now at Stanford, and I see no reason to believe it can't be the same there."
Incidentally, portraying Harbaugh as some sort of noble crusader is preposterous. If he had such deep concern for the fates of Michigan student-athletes, why is it only now, when he is attempting to frame Stanford as a city on a hill for D-I athletes, that his concerns come forth? Besides, Harbaugh's full of shit. Yost Built has a terrific survey of the declared majors on Stanford's football team, which look mighty suspicious:
Science Technology & Society: 9
Management Science & Engineering: 7
Poly Sci: 5
Public Policy: 4
Computer Sci: 2
Intl Relations: 1
Yost Built points out that 15.5% of declared football majors are in communications versus 1% of the university at large and this "STS" thing is even better:
So now about that random degree that almost nobody in the school majors in, but a disproportionate amount of football players do....at Michigan it's General Studies. At Stanford, I believe it's called Science Technology & Society. According to the Stanford STS website, there are 58 STS majors in the school. 58. That works out to .9% of the 6,400 undergrads. Want to know how many football players major in it? 9. Or 15.5% of the entire major (which dwarfs the Michigan team making up roughly 10% of General Studies).
I can add a little something to Yost Built's post. A peek at STS shows that it's an interdisciplinary field that requires a certain small set of base requirements, and then this:
# Technical Literacy: A specified computer science course and a four-course sequence in a field of science, engineering, or mathematical sciences in which a B.A. major obtains basic knowledge of some concepts, principles and methods of science, engineering, or mathematics. Faculty in various technical disciplines are available to advise and sign off on this major component.
# Thematic Concentration: A sequence of courses through which a B.A. major acquires more in-depth knowledge of and progressive competence in a particular STS issue, problem, or area of personal interest. The following Thematic Concentrations are pre-certified (students can also design their own concentration):
3. History and Philosophy
4. Information and Society
5. Public Policy
6. Social Change
7. Work and Organizations
Faculty in various disciplines are available to advise and sign off on this major component.
Emphasis mine, because it emphasizes that this is a design-your-own-major thing that is just ripe for exploitation. Hey... you know what that sounds like? General Studies! Mouthy football coach unaware of the consequences of his speech, heal thyself. Stanford shovels its football players into majors just like everyone else, and the most popular degree on the team is a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
There is no difference between Michigan and anyone else on this issue. Penn State and Notre Dame both have reputations for being very serious about their academics for football programs that aspire to something higher than being Rice, but even these two schools cluster kids like mad. A survey of Penn State's majors lifted from Anison on the Wolverine.com's message boards:
Total = 86
Declared Majors = 40
Kinesiology = 10
Parks Recreation & Tourism Mgmt = 10
Labor & Industrial Relations = 4
Crime, Law and Justice = 3
Finance = 3
Economics = 2
Mechanical Engin = 2
Marketing = 2
Rehabilitation Svcs = 1
Psychology = 1
Environment Systems Engin = 1
Letters, Arts & Sciences = 1
Management = 1
Advertising & PR = 1
Half of PSU declared majors are in Kinesiology or Parks, Recreation, & Tourism Management. I went over to Notre Dame's website and surveyed their announced majors:
Film, Television, And Theater: 5
Mechanical Engineering: 3
One each: American Studies, Math, Poli Sci, Bio, Psych.
The Math, Bio, Poli Sci, and American culture majors, along with two of the MEs and two of the History majors, are walk-ons. Bolded majors are in the Mendoza School of business; 14 others are enrolled in that school but have not declared majors. With freshmen all enrolled in "first year studies," this means that about half the team is in the Mendoza School of business. To be fair, Mendoza is a large school that comprises about 18% of the undergraduate population at Notre Dame, but a randomly selected football player is three times more likely to be enrolled in Mendoza than a non-football player. There's also ND football players' inexplicable love of sociology to grapple with, and even amongst obvious joke majors "Film, Television and Theater" stands out as a particularly embarrassing thing to have on a degree. All told, there are four declared majors at ND that are not one of these three things. Maybe Michigan's big problem is that it didn't name "General Studies" the "Rocket Science, Law-Talkin', And Doctor-Bein'" degree.
And you know what? On average, these players from Penn State and Notre Dame and Michigan and Stanford will have happy, successful lives -- remember the Gladwell -- largely thanks to the socialization and opportunity football gave them. Forcing guys whose skills lie in something other than the narrow concept of intelligence that gets you through scan-tron tests and essays through the same doors as those selected for those skills will inevitably cause many more of them to flunk out and lose that opportunity to have a better life, all in the service of maintaining the worthless fiction that football players are students first.
What Harbaugh proposes harms everyone but himself; sadly, it's become obvious we can expect no better from this man.