The John Bacon Q&A: College Football At A Crossroads

The John Bacon Q&A: College Football At A Crossroads

Submitted by Brian on September 5th, 2013 at 1:31 PM

Hey kids. John's answered your questions in an extensive post below. I know his points hit close to home as we approach the last time Michigan Stadium will host Notre Dame for the foreseeable future. The book is Fourth and Long, and it's available now.

See also: John fields questions from MVictors and talks with the PostGame. Also he was on Olbermann!

The Kraft Macaroni and Cheese noodle sits outside of the Big House on Friday, Aug. 30. Patrick Record | AnnArbor.com

Is there a way of putting the genie back in the bottle, or have the aggressive, business-oriented strategies of highlighted in the book (and there are MANY instances therein) put Michigan on an irreversible, faulty trajectory?

[My question is in his estimation, where is that "tipping point" for Michigan, and what happens when we reach it?]

Great question, and one I’ve examined from as many angles as possible for this book. Really, for Michigan fans – and fans of college football generally – it is the central question.

Michigan happens to make a great case study, on two fronts: the loyalty of its fans, and the department’s profitably, both of which are virtually unequaled in college football.

First, the good news, from the book:

“Brandon’s style might not please everyone he deals with, but he delivers what he promises. Under Brandon, the department increased its operating surplus to $15.3 million in fiscal year 2012, 72 percent higher than the previous fiscal year. In 2012, the Michigan football team alone generated $61.6 million in profits, second only to the University of Texas, which has the considerable advantage of its exclusive twenty-year, $300 million TV deal with ESPN.

Brandon has delivered more than dollars, too. After hiring Brady Hoke in 2011, the Michigan football team beat Notre Dame on the last play of the Big House’s first night game, defeated Ohio State for the first time since 2003, and won a thrilling overtime game over eleventh-ranked Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, Michigan’s first BCS bowl victory since a young man named Tom Brady beat Alabama in the January 1, 2000, Orange Bowl.

In the 2011–12 school year, the hockey team earned a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament; the men’s basketball team won a share of its first Big Ten title since 1986; and the following fall, Michigan’s other twenty-nine sports combined to run a close second behind Stanford, and ahead of such perennial all-sport powers as Texas and UCLA, in the Directors’ Cup, which Michigan has never won.

If the Michigan athletic department had issued a 2012 annual report to its shareholders, it would have been the shiniest publication in college sports, packed with enough good news to make the competition envious. By those measures, its creator could be considered an all-American athletic director.

The Wolverines are not alone in spending millions, of course, engaged as they are in an arms race with the Buckeyes and the Southeastern Conference that shows no signs of slowing down. In Brandon’s speeches to alumni clubs, service groups, and the press, he has been unabashed in laying out a simple equation: if you want titles, this is what it takes.

But it can come with some unexpected prices.”

One of them, of course, was the initial decision to leave the Marching Band in Ann Arbor for the Alabama game in Dallas – about which former band director Scott Boerma was willing to clarify several misconceptions in our interviews.

But the bigger price might be the disaffection of thousands of loyal fans, some of whom have dropped their tickets. At Michigan, as of this writing, those numbers don’t seem to be too great, and the Big House still attracts over 100,000 passionate fans each game. But just down the road at Penn State, whose fans are every bit as rabid as Michigan’s, driving an average of four hours to see their team play in State College, you can see the effects of squeezing your supporters too hard.

The scoreboard scroller at Penn State’s third game, against Navy, announced the game’s attendance at ninety-eight thousand. As I write: “This would have brought heartbreak to the Michigan crowd, which had never dipped below one hundred thousand since 1975. But the Lions’ six-year streak had already been broken at the opening game of the 2011 season, months before Sandusky was arrested, thanks to the overpricing of tickets through a misguided and ill-timed seat-license plan called the “Step Program.” This had caused attendance to drop by about three thousand a game in 2010, when the program was introduced, again in 2011, and would again in 2012.”

My sources tell me the trend is likely to continue in 2013, and this brings us to a central issue for meccas like Beaver Stadium, the Horseshoe and the Big House: faith. From the book:

College football fandom depends on the same force that buoys our nation’s currency: faith. Since the United States left the gold standard, the US dollar has value only because billions of people around the world think it does. When a critical mass of people stop thinking that, our dollars will be worth no more than Confederate scrip—without the eBay memorabilia value.

College football isn’t nearly as important, of course, nor as serious. But the ecosystem works the same way. Going to a football game at Michigan, Ohio State, or Penn State is great largely because over one hundred thousand people at each stadium think it is. If the sellouts stop and the empty seats increase, the fans start questioning why they’re paying such incredible fees for a “wow experience” that cannot attract a sellout.

One friend calculated that taking her husband and two kids to the games—without dinners or hotel rooms—costs about $500 per Saturday, more than a day at Disney World. And Mickey never loses or snows on you.

“Just because you can charge them more,” Bill Martin told me, “doesn’t mean you should. You’re not there to ring up the cash to the nth degree. It’s a nonprofit model!

“Look into how much is spent on marketing, then look at how effective it is,” he said. “Look at the increase in men’s basketball attendance this year,” he added. Michigan’s top-10 men’s team played twenty games at home, attracting capacity crowds of 12,693 for fifteen of those games, with only two under 10,000. “That would happen if you didn’t spend one penny on marketing. You don’t have to do marketing at Michigan. We have the fans. We have the support. We have a great reputation. All you have to do is win. If you win, they will come. You just need to make it as affordable as possible for your fans.”

For all these reasons, my friends—who developed what they thought were lifelong habits of attendance as kids—have found themselves in the last few years rarely going to the stadium anymore.

The straw man of the hour was Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon. Brandon talks a lot about “brand loyalty,” but that combines two words that, to a college football fan, aren’t related. College football fans are fiercely loyal, but their loyalty is to something they most definitely do not see as a brand, rather something much deeper. If Michigan football ever lost loyal fans like my friends in the living room, who were raised on Michigan football, could it win them back?

Clearly, Brandon was betting that the endless branding would keep them in the fold. And perhaps if not, other fans could replace them.”

Both those questions, I believe, will be answered in the near future. And they will be answered by you, the loyal fans, who will vote with your feet, and your credit card.

[After THE JUMP: is college football worth saving? Does Bill O'Brien want to strangle Tim Beckman? What does the U stand for?]

Fourth And Long: The Excerpt

Fourth And Long: The Excerpt

Submitted by Brian on August 23rd, 2013 at 11:53 AM

John Bacon's latest book Fourth and Long is a look at four Big Ten teams in various places as the 2012 season progresses: Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Northwestern. While the Penn State stuff is unbelievably compelling, Bacon also touches on the increasing commercialization of the game—a hot button topic here—in multiple sections, including Michigan.

The following is an account of what went down during the Great Band Fiasco Of 2012. If you desire a look at the Northwestern and Ohio State sections, Sippin' On Purple and Eleven Warriors both have excerpts today.

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Cowboy Stadium

On Friday morning, April 20, 2012, while I watched workers set up the stage for the groundbreaking ceremony for Penn State’s $104 million hockey arena the day before their football team’s spring game, I took my weekly call from Ann Arbor’s local sports-talk station, WTKA.

This being six days after Michigan’s spring scrimmage, I assumed the morning hosts would ask me how Michigan’s second-year coaches, who favored a pro-set offense, were meshing with soon-to-be senior Denard Robinson, the consummate spread-offense quarterback. So I was a little surprised when Ira Weintraub and Sam Webb asked me about the Michigan-Alabama game, scheduled more than four months away, on September 1 in Dallas.

It was already being hyped as a clash between two tradition-rich programs, both ranked in the preseason Top 10, and two tradition-rich conferences. But it was bigger than that, because the schools had struck a deal with the Dallas Cowboys’ celebrity owner, Jerry Jones, to play the game in his shiny, new, $1.15 billion, state-of-the-art pleasure dome, nicknamed Jerry World.

They called the game the Cowboy Classic, a four-year-old version of the former Kickoff Classic, and it had come to represent the apotheosis— or nadir, depending on your view—of all that modern college football was becoming: the colossal, professional stadium; the seemingly endless corporate tie-ins; and the orgy of interest in a game between amateur athletes.

Although Michigan did not sell out its allotment of 17,500 tickets for the Sugar Bowl a couple months earlier, the athletic department had no trouble selling all 25,000 tickets for the Cowboy Classic, before they could even offer them to the general public. They were gobbled up entirely by Victors Club members: first to those with the most “priority points” (which they accumulate largely through donations), down to those with just one priority point. Thousands of fans with no priority points got shut out.

It was all the more impressive because the tickets for the Cowboy Classic weren’t cheap: $125 for a seat in the rafters and $285 for one on the 50, plus $80 for parking across the street. Jerry World also offered standing-room-only tickets, which one website packaged with vouchers for a beverage, a hot dog, and a bag of chips for $89—and sold more than twenty-three hundred of them.

“Let’s put it like this,” the ever-quotable Jerry Jones said the week of the game. “I’m going to compare it even to the Super Bowl. They’re two different events—but this is the hottest ticket . . . of any game or any event that we’ve had at that stadium.”

Michigan would net $4.7 million for the Cowboy Classic matchup with Alabama, the highest payout ever for a Kickoff Classic/Cowboy Classic season opener. After the department publicized that fact, fans were surprised to hear athletic director Dave Brandon announce he would not be sending the Michigan Marching Band to the game because the athletic department couldn’t afford the $400,000 travel expense. That decision lit up sports-talk shows across the state.

This seemingly simple decision to leave the band at home raised an equally simple question: How important is the marching band to the fans?

A few weeks before Brandon’s announcement, he sent band director Scott Boerma an RFP, or a “request for proposal,” which is how CEOs ask for a sales pitch. Brandon told Boerma to put together a page of bullet points explaining why Boerma thought it would be better for the band to fly to Dallas for the season opener against Alabama, on September 1.

“We did so,” Boerma told me, “and we turned it in. We never expected Brandon to fly us down, but we hoped. At that point, it was my assumption that we would have a conversation about those bullet points, most likely making compromises on both sides. But a few days later, we heard that the answer was simply no. And that was it.”

Ann Arbor Torch And Pitchfork

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Boerma and his band were stunned, but not as much as their loyal following, who blasted the decision through just about every medium available. For a week in late April, the band’s fate dominated Ann Arbor sports-talk radio—a first, to be sure. Invective aside, the callers’ main complaint was that if Brandon eliminated a home game or the possibility of an attractive home-and-home against Alabama for the chance to play in Jerry World primarily for the record paycheck, as he stated, then why couldn’t Michigan afford the $400,000 it would cost to take the marching band? After all, the band had to be one of the main attractions of college football Jerry Jones surely expected when he invited two college teams to play in his pleasure dome.

There seem to be a few reasons behind Brandon’s initial decision. A $4.7 million payday sounds like a lot, but according to MGoBlog’s Brian Cook, it was actually about $300,000 less than Michigan would have made if Brandon had scheduled Alabama for a home-and-home series, on the same terms Michigan had with Notre Dame. The deal looks even worse when you take into account the team’s travel costs to Dallas, and the substantial revenue from parking and concessions Michigan would have kept for a home game—not to mention the excitement such a game would generate among season-ticket holders from the day it was announced. Cook concludes, “This supposed financial windfall simply does not exist.” [Ed: the department would later cop to this fact.]

But if you looked at Brandon’s initial decision to leave the band behind purely from a short-term business perspective, it made sense. The band trip would cost real money, coming right off the bottom line, but would not necessarily influence the outcome or ticket sales or TV ratings. Fans would not wait in long lines to buy Michigan Marching Band uniforms—be they classic or “alternative”—and EA Sports was not champing at the bit to put Michigan’s drum major on the cover of its next marching-band video game.

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from "Day 2 Marching Band Not Going To Dallas Rage Thread"

If you bring it back to the simple question of keeping your fans happy, however, Brandon’s decision was as foolhardy as the CEO of Cracker Jack eliminating the prizes at the bottom of the boxes because, hey, you can’t eat them, and those things cost money. If there is one symbol of college football that distinguishes the irrational, romantic notions fans feel for their favorite sport from the streamlined sensibilities of the pro game, the marching band might be the best place to start. When the band plays, the students feel connected to their parents, and their parents feel connected to their past, traveling back in time to their college days.

It is the prize at the bottom of the box.

Shortly after Bill Martin became athletic director in 2000, he commissioned a survey titled “Fans Speak Out on Game Day Experience,” by his good friend, Republican pollster Bob Teeter. The response rate alone told them how passionate Michigan fans were about their team. While most consumer surveys attract a 6 to 8 percent rate of return, fully 64 percent of the three thousand Michigan fans randomly selected responded—or about ten times the average.

When these season-ticket holders were asked to rank the importance of twenty-three aspects of the game-day experience, the survey readers weren’t too shocked to find seat location atop the list, with 88 percent of respondents ranking it “important.” But the marching band finished a close fourth, with 83 percent, two places ahead of the final score, and four ahead of the quality of the opponent. Thus, whether the Wolverines won or lost, or which team they were playing—in other words, the football game—was less important to the fans than seeing the marching band. After all, the band remained undefeated.

Brandon took some hits for his decision from fans, who flooded his e-mail account, but donors soon stepped up to cover half the $400,000 tab, leading some to believe the whole incident was a ruse to get someone else to pay the bill. But UM’s band director at the time, Scott Boerma, wasn’t buying it. “I do not think he planned on the backlash,” Boerma told me, “nor do I think it was some clever way to get donors to pony up for it. Dave was genuinely surprised.”

After Brandon finally capitulated, he told the Detroit Economic Club in August that it was all a “misunderstanding,” akin to a “family squabble.” He said he had agreed from the outset to fund the $100,000 necessary for the band to take buses down to Dallas, allowing them to play concerts along the way."

“The band changed their mind,” Brandon said. “They decided they didn’t want to be in buses and they didn’t want to play their way to Dallas, and they came and said, ‘We’re planning on coming to Dallas, everybody’s planning on coming to Dallas, but we’re not going to ride in buses—we’re going to fly in a jumbo jet and here’s what it’s going to cost.’”

But Boerma recalls the dialogue differently. “I think it’s important for people to know that we never ‘changed our mind.’ We never agreed to busing down and playing gigs along the way. We offered to look into that possibility, but when we did, we determined that it really wouldn’t be best for all concerned, especially because it would be the weekend before classes started, and we would lose several days of our pre-season rehearsals, when we prepare for the entire fall ahead. We never refused to bus down, as Brandon said. We were never given the opportunity to refuse anything, because there was no follow-up conversation.

“When it all hit the fan, I made sure that it wasn’t the band students and staff causing a commotion. We just laid low and waited for it all to work out. If the decision to not take the band down remained intact, we would have been fine with that. It was Brandon’s decision; he was paying the bills, and that’s his business.”

Of course, some fans angered over the decision included big donors, who ultimately stepped up to cover half the cost of the band’s trip.

"The band is coming to Dallas," Brandon told his audience. "And I hope you enjoy every note."

Leaving the band behind for a big game proved not to be an option—at least in 2012.

As the arms race escalates, Brandon does not seem terribly interested in slowing down to ponder it all. He is too busy pressing full steam ahead. “I don’t talk the past,” he said several times in his first year as Michigan’s athletic director. “I create the future.”

He might just be right.

If the future of Penn State was in the hands of its players, and Ohio State in the hands of its new head coach, Michigan’s was in the hands of its new athletic director.

Fourth and Long is available everywhere: 11  bucks on Kindle, 16 for a hardcover. Worth it just for the story about Jay Paterno getting chased out of his own locker room, and there are 200 more pages.

Unverified Voracity Chases Stanford Futilely

Unverified Voracity Chases Stanford Futilely

Submitted by Brian on April 24th, 2013 at 12:30 PM

YOU'RE A TALLER. User Bombadil reports that Ian Bunting is still getting mail from Mississippi State, too.

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This may be fake but probably not.

WE'RE ALL FLIPPER. Congrats to the men's gymnastics team, national champs. Sam Mikulak is your champion on parallel bars and high bar plus the overall individual national champ.

With men's swimming bringing home a title of their own plus the basketball team's run to the final, Michigan is actually threatening Stanford's Director's Cup hegemony. When the Director's Cup releases their updated standings tomorrow Michigan should be on top of the rankings with only a few sports left: golf, base/softball, track and field, women's water polo, women's lacrosse, and men's volleyball.

Michigan's pretty good at some of those… but, uh, unfortunately Stanford is better.

Top 25 Rankings for Stanford in spring sports, most rankings updated last weekend:

Softball - 16

Men's Golf - 8

Women's Golf - 12

Baseball - receiving votes

Women's T&F - 9

Women's Water Polo - 1

Men's Volleyball - 6

Women's Rowing - 9

Women's Tennis – 12

This is how you dominate the Director's Cup since a year after its inception. If you want even more details, the board has you covered.

Goodbye, 11 to 15 minutes. Draft Express's Trey Burke draft video is all kinds of fun. Even the five minutes dedicated to Burke drawbacks features a number of Kobe assists or shoulda-been Kobe assists:

What an awesome player.

YER A BALLERZ. The NCAA 14 cover:

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Will I buy this crap-pile of a game from the worst company in America because it has Denard Robinson on the cover? Maybe. Have they fixed the kangaroo linebackers yet? Made any positive changes to gameplay since 2004?

ORGAN TRAWLERZ. The NHL's Central Scouting Bureau has released their final rankings, with a slew of future Wolverines included:

  • #34 JT Compher
  • #49 Michael Downing
  • #84 Tyler Motte
  • #111 Nolan De Jong
  • #136 Alex Kile
  • #142 Andrew Copp
  • #157 Evan Allen

2014 recruit Dexter Dancs fell out of the rankings after being 154th in the midterm. Everyone went up save Compher, who dropped from #20. Default reminder: the CSB has separate lists for goalies and Europeans, so add 30% to each guy's ranking to get a projected draft spot. FWIW, Compher and Downing have appeared in a lot of first round mock drafts I've seen.

So. Michigan's class may lack a Trouba-level dominant star, but it is extremely deep. Everyone who's coming in next year* save recent goalie pickup Zach Nagelvoort and Bryson Cianfrone is likely to get picked in the upcoming draft. Kile in particular is a bonus after being passed over a year ago. He nearly doubled his points in the USHL this year and gives Michigan another option for a scoring-line forward.

That helps make up for the fade from Cianfrone, who was headed for the first round of the OHL draft before his Michigan commitment. He's off NHL draft radars and has a 6-15-21 line in the USHL this year. He is a 5'8" kid who's coming in as an 18 year old, so you can construct a picture in which he still develops into what he was supposed to be a couple years ago.

Anyway: strong incoming class that hopefully sticks around long enough to be impact upperclassmen. And how about Andrew Copp?

*[Spencer Hyman and Max Shuart may also arrive, but neither signed a LOI so I assume they are walking on.]

And we're done. Show us what we've won. Oh, it's a wheezing dog and a dead iguana. Jim Delany on further Big Ten expansion:

"Given everything that has gone on, yes," Delany said when asked about the ACC’s deal cementing the current five major conferences to their respective lineups.

Although Delany said the 16-team superconference format was also "an arbitrary number" that he wasn’t part of, the Big Ten was open to further expansion. ... There still is the possibility that a team from the SEC (Missouri) could leave for the Big Ten -- the SEC has no grant of rights or exit fee -- but that’s a pipe dream, at best.

So here we are. Playing Rutgers and Maryland every year, and not Iowa and Wisconsin and Nebraska. It's hard not to see Delany as a giant middle finger to fans, just walkin' around. Mighty big hand you escaped from there. Tell us more about media markets. Please, yes, just like that. Yes. Like that. About media markets.

What is a name, anyway? The powers that be paid someone millions of dollars to tell them to call the college football playoff "College Football Playoff." Nice work if you can get it. Not quite as good as Bill Hancock's job, which is to say whatever the hell he wants at any time without bothering to pretend he believes it.

That is not actually a name. If you call your dog "dog" you have not named him but described him. It is bad when your "name" for a thing is in fact a description of a superset of what you are—there are already other, separate college football playoffs. Delany:

"I'll be happy with whatever. Obviously I'm not great with names."

Yes, but that's no reason to eschew the concept entirely. You can try again, Mr. Delany, as long as you float some trial balloons to see if the entire internet mocks you before you make a decision. You can love again.

Anyway. These folks trademarked their name-type substance. Can you even do that? I want to make shirts that say "COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF" to test this out. If Xerox is too generic to be a trademark, how can "college football playoff" be unique enough? Someone who likes being in lawsuits, please find this out.

Further confirmation. In not-quite-announced news that's pretty much announced, yeah, Desmond Morgan is permanently moving to MLB so James Ross can start at WLB:

“Playing in space is something I definitely had to adjust to my first two years here because I wasn’t used to that in high school. I was more of an in the box kind of guy,” Morgan said. “Going back over to MIKE, I kind of feel a little bit more comfortable in a sense because of that.

“During the spring, it’s been an adjustment but it was something I kind of grew up playing.”

Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone will back up the MLB and WLB spots, respectively.

BONUS: James Ross named "most improved player" this spring. Hype rocket is entering stage two.

Ann Arbor is pretty all right. Click for big.

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WE AGREE OH MY PANTS. Dave Brandon and I both think a ten game conference schedule is a good idea.

"I'm in favor of looking at it for the same reasons we went from eight to nine," Brandon told MLive.com. Those reasons include more competitive schedules, as well as greater ability for players to see each of the league's 13 other teams in their careers.

The money thing is an issue, but raise your hand if you'd willingly eat the extra costs from a hypothetical exhibition game in exchange for a tenth conference game. That's everybody, right?

Etc.: "In a sign of the times, Michigan has competition at fullback." : /

25 memories of "college sports' dumbest goldrush." Blake McLimans taking his talents to Oxford. RIP, Toomer's oaks. Senior highlights from Mark Donnal. Stretch four, yo. Athletic directors are sad. David Thorpe really likes Trey Burke($).

Dave Goes Catfishin'

Dave Goes Catfishin'

Submitted by Brian on February 1st, 2013 at 10:57 AM

[10:31 AM] Wow Experience: a/s/l
[10:32 AM] Brian: um
[10:32 AM] Wow Experience: i am a hot girl
[10:32 AM] Brian: I see
[10:32 AM] Wow Experience: i would like to be your girlfriend
[10:32 AM] Brian: I'm married.
[10:33 AM] Wow Experience: but I have cancer.
[10:33 AM] Brian: This had better not be Dave Brandon again.
[10:33 AM] Wow Experience: no i am a girl
[10:34 AM] Brian: I'm not even a student at Michigan anymore, let alone a student-athlete.
[10:34 AM] Wow Experience: I have sad cancer.
[10:34 AM] Brian: Fine, fine. Send me your picture.
[10:34 AM] Wow Experience:

JoePaterno-thumb-537x358-12612[1]

[10:35 AM] Brian: ...
[10:35 AM] Wow Experience: are you feeling the wow in your pants bronco
[10:36 AM] Brian: This is even more distasteful than last time.
[10:36 AM] Wow Experience: I AM NOT REAL BE CAREFUL ON THE INTERNET
[10:36 AM] Brian: what really
[10:36 AM] Wow Experience: YES
[10:36 AM] Brian: then how are you typing
[10:36 AM] Wow Experience: WHOAH

Unverified Voracity Dances Way Off Team

Unverified Voracity Dances Way Off Team

Submitted by Brian on December 17th, 2012 at 11:42 AM

Goodbye beard. Also the rest of Elliott Mealer at winter graduation:

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Goodbye to you sir. Michigan suspends Hawthorne, Floyd, and Will Hagerup for the bowl game. A couple people told me this a couple days ago, and they both seemed to think Hagerup would not return. After a dramatically-timed suspension against Ohio State and another for the first four games of 2011, it would be surprising to find out Hagerup had a fourth strike.

But the AD didn't announce Hagerup was gone, so there's probably a last-ditch straight-and-narrow chance he can get back a la Stonum, except hopefully not a la Stonum. Michigan will be fine with Matt Wile for the bowl anyway.

Cornerback, on the other hand… yeah, Floyd spent the year tempting fate but the alternatives there are… uh. Moving Courtney Avery to the outside—probably to field corner since he's a lot smaller than Raymon Taylor—is probably your best one, and then your nickel guy is either Delonte Holowell or Terry Richardson. I'm still not sure that corner environment is any worse than Michigan's options at tailback, but at least the Norfleet-to-corner move makes some sense now. Hopefully it's temporary.

Hawthorne had been limited to special teams this year; his loss isn't impactful.

Now has more time for dancing. MGoVideo caught this oddly-timed dance festival just posted on youtube featuring Floyd:

I rate it an 0.8 Mike Cox.

And so it does not begin. Presenting Michigan's secret weapon in their recruitment of Derrick Green:

Dead period for football begins today and runs through January 3. No on- or off-campus contacts/evals permitted. Calls/email permissible.

Green plans on enrolling early; if he sticks to that plan he should be announcing at the Army game on January 5th, leaving virtually no time for anyone to catch up with announced leader Michigan. Does yoga, is huge.

This trend will probably stop soon. Will Leitch on the way the cable bundling model is going:

Not that many people are going through all the trouble to do this yet, but as cable fees keep going up, and more workarounds can be found (and we haven’t even gotten into pirated feeds), more people will cut the cord. We live in an information-wants-to-be-free age, and we’re still being held down by these media-company gatekeepers. In the real world it’s 2012; in the cable universe, it might as well be 1988. Eventually, this will have to change. It’s too insane and rigged-against-the-consumer for it not to. The problem, of course, is that, like so many capitalists before them, leagues and teams and sports networks are all assuming that it’ll always be like this, that these revenue will keep growing forever and ever, that this golden goose will always keep laying eggs. There are decades upon decades of Darwinian consumer trends that contradict that. In 30 years, we may have all unplugged our cable bundles and be paying a la carte. This is the nightmare situation, but I’m not the first person to suggest we’re living in a cable sports television bubble. Someday it’ll pop. Then, suddenly, we’ll look and think: Why in the world is Maryland in the Big Ten?

Rutgers is even more of an outlier but the point is a good one. At some point the rickety dam keeping all of these channels unnecessarily bundled is going to break, and then having teams that can't fill not-very-big stadiums is not going to be an asset.

Bacon. He considers the PSL increase:

Former Michigan Athletic Director Don Canham sold the experience – and we bought it.  Canham was a great marketer, but what impressed me most was what he would not do for money: solicit donors, put advertising on the uniforms or in the stadium, host night games, charge for tours – or ask for a raise.  He had already made millions in business, and didn’t feel the need to squeeze more from his alma mater.

The current athletic department now aggressively seeks donors and corporate sponsors.  It has brought advertising back to Crisler, in a big way, and has started sneaking advertising into the once-pristine Big House, too.  They now charge to host corporate events, wedding receptions, and even school tours, which had been free since the Big House opened in 1927.  Heck, until a few years ago, they didn’t even lock the gates during the week.

Michigan’s not alone, of course, and they will tell you it’s the cost of doing business – but what business, exactly?  When current Athletic Director Dave Brandon said on “60 Minutes” that the “business model is broken” – what he failed to grasp was that it’s “broken” because it was never intended to be a business in the first place.  After all, what business doesn’t have to pay shareholders, partners, owners, taxes, or the star attractions, the players and the band?

Raise your hand if you're sick of being told you can rent out the Big House for a wedding. That is everyone except the guy who emailed me pictures of his Michigan Stadium wedding over the summer in case I wanted to post them, which seemed like an awfully mean thing to do to a guy.

Brandon clearly sees the lack of advertising in the stadium as an annoyance, and has put it in anyway: just because the blaring thing trying to market something is a wedding or Michigan's facebook page doesn't mean it's not advertising. By pushing the boundaries wherever he can, Brandon indicates where he'd like to take the Big House experience if not faced with a potential fan revolt.

Bacon makes a great point: it's to the point that whenever you're putting down your money you feel like kind of an idiot for spending it. Thus the multiple "I bet I can scalp for cheap" projects on the internet and the regular stories about how you can get into most Michigan State games for two dollars or the Big Ten Championship for ten.

Speaking of: College Football Is This Other Thing post using Wall Street as the other thing is creepily accurate.

The Guys Running The Big Ten are Bain Capital

The Guys Running The Big Ten are Bain Capital

Step 1: Take over asset. Step 2: Exploit that asset with no regard for long-term consequences. Step 3: Laugh, buy a bigger summer house or a dressage horse or something.

In the Big Ten's case the dressage horse is a fancy building for a sport that brings in no revenue.

Yes please return. This will help the floundering hockey team:

Michigan coach Billy Powers on WTKA: "There's a good chance we could see (Merrill) immediately following the holidays."

I'm not holding out much hope for the GLI with Trouba at the World Juniors, and by the time Merrill makes it back Michigan's fate may already be sealed. Michigan is currently 36th in the RPI and would have to win 75% of their remaining games to get into the top 20, where a bid is vaguely possible. Either they rip off a streak for the ages starting right now or it's conference tourney or bust.

Etc.: can Rob Parker please stop existing now? On TV, I mean. He can remain in existence as long as he is not given a platform to express his thought-type-substances to the masses.

Derrick Walton profiled. Brandon gets dollars. Michigan was not fortunate this year. One way in which linear regressions are frequently misapplied. Key plays against West Virginia.

Unverified Voracity Finds Worst Headline

Unverified Voracity Finds Worst Headline

Submitted by Brian on October 19th, 2012 at 3:44 PM

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Monumental

Not the Onion. News headline:

MSU challenges officials to take control of game vs. Michigan

Are you man enough to call another 100 yards in personal fouls on Michigan State, refs?

Also, Tyler Hoover is supposed to return to the lineup at DT. Not sure how much impact that will have.

Also not the Onion. This is where the rivalry is at the moment:

Michigan prepping for a 'figurative fist fight' in physical tilt vs. Michigan State

More like LITERAL KNIFE FIGHT AMIRITE.

Also also not the Onion. We have a formidable secondary?

Michigan's formidable secondary 'looking to get after it' against MSU

I'm going to go away and hope this is true forever.

YOU DON'T KNOW HOW THINGS ARE CAUSED. Winner?

Former Michigan star Mike Hart's infamous comment sparked Michigan State's resurgence in series

Worst article is easy. Matt Charboneau's flufftastic puff piece on Gholston, which does the same thing all attempts to defend Gholston do: focus on the meaningless punch that brought a suspension while ignoring the Denard helmet twist and the Lewan arm bar. No one cares about hitting a guy in a helmet with your fist in the heat of whatever. It's unfortunate that the Big Ten focused on that instead of the truly dirty stuff.

He's just misunderstood, you see, and he has kid, so he must be an awesome dude. They don't just hand out kids to anyone. You have to be licensed.

Maybe he just went crazy that one time but if you're going to write an article about it at least have the honesty to detail the things that happened.

Uniformz? A photo of a chrome-tastic MSU helmet is floating around the internets and the rumor is they will be deployed Saturday:

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Hopefully Michigan doesn't respond in kind as they did last year, if this is actually a thing that is being worn. I worry that someone somewhere is saying "we have to bridge the chrome gap!" and not being shot.

MSU scouting bits. Highly recommended are Ross Fulton's breakdowns of what Ohio State did against MSU. The MSU defense:

MICHIGAN STATE: LOADED FOR BEAR

As expected, Michigan State adopted an aggressive style that focused upon attacking Ohio State's inside zone read. Michigan State generally operated from their 40 over defense with their Will linebacker walked over the slot receiver.

The Spartan Will linebacker's role was not to cover the slot receiver, however. Instead, he was tasked with accounting for Braxton Miller on the zone read, allowing the defensive end to crash the zone play. In essence, the Spartans ran a constant scrape exchange.

In response, OSU shot their H-back outside the defensive end and hit the edge or used him to block the crashing DE and read the slot-oriented LB, or they used outside runs that used the aggression of that DE to open up the corner. Expect Michigan's inside zone to be a maintenance play that picks up a few yards, allowing other runs to bust for larger gains.

Tremendous also has a breakdown, one that focuses on the defensive tackles—who are not good, thus the Kittredge switch this week. Included are many amazing displays of Spartan DTs put on skates by the OSU OL. I'm with Mr. Larson: block Gholston, option someone else, screw rollouts, especially naked ones.

Fulton's item on the MSU offense vs the OSU defense is a little less relevant because Michigan is mostly a one-high cover three defense and OSU is transitioning to cover four.  Hankins did clobberate the MSU run game as a three tech—Will Campbell pad level versus bad guard play come on down?

BONUS: Fulton breaks down what the hell happened to OSU's defense against Indiana.

OH BOY. Hopefully this is Brandon not ruling out anything when someone brings up the idea of a neutral site game in a Q&A and not actually wanting to continue college football's worst trend:

But he did say Wednesday that he remains open to all possibilities for the newly-created void on the Wolverines' schedule beginning in 2015.

Whether it's a home-and-home with a big-name opponent, or another possible neutral site game, similar to this year's Cowboys Classic against Alabama in Arlington, Texas.

"We're looking at both," Brandon said. "The key thing for us is to try and make sure we're playing in a venue that gives our fans access, and economically, provides us the best opportunity that justifies going on the road.

"We put 110 or 112,000 people every game in our venue, it's hard to go play in front of 35,000 people."

Ugh, ugh, ugh. A neutral site game gives fans less access than a home and home because it's a game in the middle of nowhere in a smaller stadium. No more neutral site games—we renovated the stadium for a reason, I assume, and not "so Slippery Rock can play there."

This isn't that hard: see MSU and OSU, currently loading up with quality nonconference home and homes not against opponents with 35k seat stadiums… because those don't exist in BCS conferences. Brandon must wake up at night tossing and turning at the agony of having to go to UConn next year. We get it. We also don't care. No more neutral sites.

Oh, man. Don't listen to them, Dylan Larkin.

While perusing my Twitter feed, I came across this tweet from U.S. NTDP Under-18 Team goalie Thatcher Demko and reply by Michigan commit Evan Allen:

@thatcher_hockey: Larkin is Screetch” hahahha omg he IS screetch

Larkin-Screech[1]

via Michigan Hockey Net

Kids in high school still know who Screech is?

Mac Bennett stepping up. If Michigan can ever ice their full-strength defensive corps it will be a thing to behold($):

"Our guys liked his poise out there, his ability to handle and move the puck," said Trevor Timmins, Montreal's Director of Amateur Scouting. "He's a gifted skater. That's the one thing that he can rely on to get him to the NHL. He's not a big guy so he's had to add some size and strength, but he's in a great situation at Michigan, with some outstanding coaching, and we're seeing that development there.

"Similarly to Greg Pateryn last season, this season Mac is being leaned on to log a lot of ice time, and to play in all situations - be a leader on the team - and that provides Mac with greater confidence in his ability."

That's still some time away, unfortunately. Here's a Bentley preview from Michigan Hockey Net.

Wojo zings. Wojo zings:

This annual clash has turned into a nasty affair, which can happen when brothers scrap and egos fray. It wouldn't be this way if the Spartans had quietly gone about their business, winning two or three times a decade. But then Mark Dantonio showed up with his deep playbook of scowls, much deeper than his offense's playbook, and started ticking people off.

The Wolverines don't appreciate the Spartans' audacity to physically manhandle them. And the Spartans don't appreciate the Wolverines' continuing attempt to pretend their Ohio-based rival is more important.

Common Michigan State plea: "Heeyyyy, we're right heeeeere! Try to beat us! At least look at us!"

Etc.: Dave Brandon turns down no opportunity to crap on the plebes. Stubhub season ticket quest takes a hit on the MSU game. The Daily on Willis Ward.

Penn State's "fourth down bravery" may have something to do with the fact they have the worst punting and kicking in the country. The Bylaw Blog advocates athletics majors. The new NHL CBA might be better for college programs than the old one. Still waiting on the massive imbalance in AHL eligibility to get sorted out. Genuinely Sarcastic back from the grave. DIAMOND STONE is visiting this weekend. He's a five-star 2015 basketball post.

Keeping Up With The Scarlet And Gray Joneses

Keeping Up With The Scarlet And Gray Joneses

Submitted by Brian on June 6th, 2012 at 11:47 AM

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anything you can charge I can charge at almost equal efficiency

A cherry-picked statistic from Michigan's worst home schedule in a long time and an eyebrow-cocking assertion caught my attention yesterday:

Michigan increased football ticket prices for this fall's six home games, but could another increase be in the works?

It certainly seems that's the direction.

Dave Brandon, Michigan's athletic director who spoke to the Wolverines Caucus on Tuesday, said 43 percent of the athletic department revenue comes from ticket sales.

"We're woefully under-market," Brandon said.

Michigan earlier this spring announced what it called a "modest" increase in football ticket prices. The six home-game package is $390, or an average $65 per game. Ohio State charges $75 a game, and Brandon said that gives the Buckeyes more money to put back into their athletic program and makes them more competitive.

This claim probably catches anyone who writes a check to the university by surprise so I thought I'd check it. It's hard to do so since the documents you can FOIA from the two schools list things a lot differently. They also do things differently: OSU has no mandatory annual PSLs. Instead they have a "Buckeye Fund" you donate to which gets you points that gets you priority, etc.

But the bottom line is I don't think Michigan fans are getting off easy. In 2010 OSU's eight-game home schedule netted them a total of $42.1 million. Michigan's seven games that year brought in 33.1 million. In 2011 OSU's seven home games were projected to bring in $36.4 million; Michigan's eight were projected to bring in 41.3 million. Over those two years that's a deficit for Michigan of about 270k per game, or about $2.45 a ticket.

It's hard to get a grip on exactly what the comparable numbers are in donationland but Michigan seems to have an advantage. In 2010 Buckeye Fund donations were around 10 million. Michigan's PSDs were $8.9 million plus another three million in "other gifts." Their nascent club seats and suites brought in $7.8; the year after things got in full swing and the fancy seat donations brought in $13 million. In 2011 OSU brought in $11 million from its fancy seats and another 3.5 from a "stadium ticket surcharge".

Add it all up and…

2010/2011 OSU Michigan
Regular ticket sales 78.5 74.4
Suites and club* 22 26
Generic Donations 20 24.8
Ticket Surcharge 7.5 N/A
Total 128 125.2

*[I used the 2011 numbers twice here since it was clear Michigan expected the 2011 number to be closer to accuracy going forward.]

…the gap is essentially nonexistent, the equivalent of $1.70 a ticket over those two years. Without the temporary surcharge Michigan would have an advantage. It's not clear what market Brandon's looking at. If it's the one in Columbus he's wrong.

Big Ten Meetings, Brought To You By Barbasol And Facepalm

Big Ten Meetings, Brought To You By Barbasol And Facepalm

Submitted by Ace on May 16th, 2012 at 2:33 PM


Total abominations

The Big Ten meetings are currently underway in Chicago, and the big story is the Big Ten bowing to their SEC overlords respecting the sanctity of the Rose Bowl by abandoning the desire for on-campus playoff semifinals. Of course, the stated reason for such a stance can't be "we're hopelessly in the pockets of the bowl system, so we'll sacrifice a competitive advantage for the sake of preserving some bastardized ideal of tradition," so this is now about... fairness?

Sure, USC or UCLA playing in the Rose Bowl, LSU playing in the Sugar Bowl, Florida or Miami in the Orange Bowl, that's all fine. God forbid Big Ten fans actually get to drive to a postseason game while their SEC counterparts don coats (gasp!) and get on an airplane for what amounts to a road game! No, this can't happen because the kids want a nice trip and their bowl swag:

Fair enough, I guess. I'm assuming, if the question was framed differently, the players would be in support of hosting a semifinal—and evening the playing field—instead of playing a "home" semi in Pasadena before a warm neutral-site final, though I could be wrong. Escaping Michigan in January is always high on my list of things to do in Michigan in January. This, however, is not my ideal destination:

I present Yankee Stadium, home of the Pinstripe Bowl, one day before the 2010 game:

What's really remarkable is that the Big Ten is so brazen in its hypocricy that these ideas are presented within mere minutes of each other. The sooner the bowl system dies a fiery (icy?) death, at least when it comes to determining a national champion, the better.

Athletic Director For A Day

Athletic Director For A Day

Submitted by Brian on May 8th, 2012 at 2:07 PM

A few weeks back, Ira from WTKA sent me an If I Was King article from a Penn State blog. Naturally, this got me thinking about what I would do if I woke up tomorrow and someone told me that due to a quantum something or other I was athletic director.

There are of course many things. I would let that hashtag guy go since he's supposed to be a public relations person but talks like a robot instead of a person, etc. But no one would see these changes. They may hear a deep rumbling basso laugh of evil. See it in their gameday experience they won't. So here are my top five-ish things I'd do in this alternate universe.

1. Start taking attendance, for both stick and carrot

Student Section[1]

three minutes to kickoff, check the packed endzone next to the students

One thing Dave Brandon and I are of one mind on is how gross it is for the student section to be half-empty at kickoff on certain gamedays. Since they're now scanning tickets they know who's coming early and who's coming late. They should start using this trove of data to reward behaviors they like and discourage ones they don't.

All season ticket holders, student or not, should start having an attendance score tracked. Max points are scored by being in the stadium 20 minutes prior to kickoff—bands—and something like 90% are scored by being there at kickoff, with a steep dropoff afterwards. For the first couple years Michigan does nothing with these except inform everyone of their score and their percentile range within their group (each different PSL level is a group w/ students separate) and within the entire fanbase.

Once they have a handle on the numbers they start making some use of this data with the students. Seating priority and away ticket and bowl lotteries are based on the score instead of straight seniority. Figure out the bottom 10% and set a threshold below which you can buy tickets but only at a full-cost rate. Take some of your pots of money and reward the most dedicated fans with reduced prices and special bonuses. What we're building is a religion, not a company.

For the folks paying full price there's not much Michigan can do. They're stretching everybody to the maximum dollar and at some point getting snooty about who you want on the list is going to result in no one showing up when you call out "next." But at the very least these scores should start adding to Victors point levels in some way, so that the guy who sat through the Ellerbe era at Crisler gets some credit for it.

Theme: Michigan's too focused on money as the end result of everything; they should make an effort to make the experience of being at a game better for everyone involved.

2. Stop playing the Penn State alma mater at every game

ignore the content of the song, project as 15 second clip

That would be "Seven Nation Army." I stole that joke from twitter.

Anyway. If Special K is going to run our lives for four hours every fall Saturday, the least he can do is not play the same six stadium anthems every other arena on the planet does. It is possible to both play music and build tradition if you pick something that you make yours.

Michigan accidentally did this when they picked a funky instrumental from a blaxploitation movie to lead Michigan Replay for 30 years. That worked because it was weird and ours and now I can't imagine our podcast without it; losing Across 110th Street was a traumatic experience that killed most of my interest in watching the Michigan Replay replacement (that and the internet making it a quaint relic). Special K should play that.

That should also serve as a lesson for any other in-game stuff. Make it weird, make it yours, stop playing "Sweet Caroline." Dump the overplayed Seven Nation Army and replace it with any of a dozen other White Stripes songs that would be equally or better suited. Make people think "Michigan" when they hear a song.

Michigan may have already tried this with "In The Big House," but the lesson there is never let a middle-aged white dude make a decision about music. Everrrrr. For it to be a beloved tradition people can't largely loathe it:

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if anything this is kind since MGoReadership skews very young

Anyway. Figure out some stuff other people don't play that doesn't suck, play it at specific times so people get familiar with it, wait, and down the road you have a tradition.

Theme: By being different you can be loved.

3. Ask season ticket holders what they would like the schedule to look like, and ask them to pay for it

A corollary to this whole Alabama money debate is this: if it's going to cost extra to schedule a real opponent in a home and home, fine. When season ticket renewals are processed ask the people signing up if they would approve a surcharge for X games in X years against a BCS-level opponent in a home and home. Again, don't do anything with this information for a couple years as you gauge where you're at, then if you have a strong base of support for a more interesting schedule in those ND/OSU away years, announce that you're playing Team X and there will be a surcharge Y—or just price the ticket appropriately—for that year only.

You get permission to charge more in exchange for an exciting opponent; you bridge that gap between what a season ticket costs and what it's worth to scalpers.

Theme: Fans are more than teats to milk. We all participate in the decisions, and thereby become more invested.

4. Ask the Old Hat guys to do historical stuff for breaks

The one unqualified success in the modernization of the stadium experience has been the introductory videos produced by Old Hat Creative. Instead of filling dead air with Special K stuff it would be nice if Old Hat was tasked with producing 1-3 minute videos on Michigan history: Anthony Carter, the Virginia Kickoff Classic, Braylonfest, Tom Harmon, etc.

Basically MVictors: The Movie: The Short.  The goal here is to do a little bit more than the occasional old highlight they've put on the board. Think little five-minute mini-documentaries about, say, the 1997 OSU game and what have you. You could play them in the nothing at the end of half time or split them across a couple commercial breaks.

Bonus: These can also be repurposed for Inside Michigan Football.

Theme: INDOCTRINATE

5. Think Carl Grapentine

This is more of a long-term feel than a specifically actionable thing one can do. If you don't know, Carl Grapentine is the PA guy at Michigan Stadium. If you've been to road games (or Michigan basketball ever) you know that he's a rare bird. Even Notre Dame's announcer burst out with something about how a rainbow had just appeared over the stadium—which was at least true—when Cam Gordon got torched for that billion-yard touchdown at the end of Denard's coming-out party a couple years ago.

Grapentine ain't havin' that. He's a just the facts ma'am kind of guy who brings boatloads of gravitas. He would easily win a presidential election contested between PA announcers. The Wings' Bud Lynch is another in that mold.

Many people have joked about The Brand The Brand The Brand in the past couple years as Brandon does whatever the hell he's doing with it. Mostly he's making it clear why we can't be Oregon. Say what you want about the Ducks' outlandishness, but damn if they don't communicate OREGON:

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OREGOOOOOOOOON!!!!!!!!!!!!! OREGON!

Even if the uniforms are incoherent, that is a coherent brand, one that supplanted a history of suck with success. Michigan has the opposite situation but they're just wobblin' around out there, claiming to be the home of tradition and coming out in no fewer than five different uniforms over the course of a season. That's not The Brand. That's the sad spectacle of a man going through a mid-life crisis getting "clunk" at da club.

Grapentine's the brand. Hoke is the brand. Refocus on that.

Theme: know who you are, instead of who the Knicks are.

Any Way The Wind Blows: Playoffs

Any Way The Wind Blows: Playoffs

Submitted by Brian on May 3rd, 2012 at 10:25 AM

An apparently continuing series on Dave Brandon's remarkably malleable opinions.

Dave Brandon, January 16th($):

"This whole notion of a playoff is ridiculous because I don't care what you come up with, it's not going to be a fair playoff. You've got a bunch of teams that don't play one another and play different competition and in different time zones in different conferences in different stadiums in front of different crowds and different weather and suddenly at some point in the year you are trying to arbitrarily decide which one is better and which one deserves to be in a four-team playoff or a six-team playoff."

Dave Brandon, May 3rd:

"I'm not opposed to 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3, plus-one concept," Brandon said. "I don't see it as a true playoff system. It's a clever way to come up with one more football game. I'm not sure I call that a playoff, but if it makes everybody feel better, call it a playoff."

Mmmm, bendy. Dave Brandon's line between playoff and not playoff is 5.87 teams, no fewer, no more.