Noted Northwestern graduate and Chicago Tribune contributor Teddy Greenstein published a piece yesterday evening entitled "Jim Harbaugh Drinks the Blood of the Innocent," in which he bemoaned Jiim Harbaugh's treatment of Erik Swenson. But then finally someone pulled an article about Michigan's side of the story out from behind a paywall, in the person of Michael Spath. Spath's article cites sources that say that Michigan informed Swenson of his status months ago, and that this was in no way as out of the blue as had been suggested.
Greenstein could have just gone quiet, or could have recrafted his article as a more general statement on the woes of modern recruiting. But instead, he doubled down.
As you probably know, I am not an insider, and to the extent I have information that is not already in the public domain, I do not plan to share. But in the interest of poking bad writing and logic with a stick, I thought I would share my thoughts on Mr. Greenstein's thoughts.
1. Much of the response was along the lines of: Hey, other coaches also dump verbal commitments. Why single out Harbaugh?
My response to that: I’m among the scores of college football columnists who have ripped SEC coaches for oversigning. What Harbaugh is doing, on this scale, is unprecedented among Big Ten coaches. And I cover the Big Ten.
First of all, what “scale” is this, and exactly what part is unprecedented? I’m guessing Teddy will fill us in on these things soon.*
*SPOILER: he doesn’t.
He began the practice at Stanford, using the shield of academics and the admissions office. Quarterback Kain Colter, who carried a 4.2 grade-point average and later led the fight to unionize college football at Northwestern, was dumped after he injured his throwing shoulder.
Does Greenstein have a problem with a team “dumping” a player for injury reasons? I can’t wait to find out.
Harbaugh is now dropping verbal commits when he thinks he can upgrade to a better player. Or a healthier one.
The circumstances of the departures vary widely, and the latest insisted his scholarship offer had not been pulled. But we’re talking about eight players. Eight. More info here in Mark Snyder’s Detroit Free Press piece.
Got it. So when a recruit (in this case Enis) comes out and explicitly says “my scholarship wasn’t pulled,” and no one contradicts that statement, he still gets the “the kid insists his scholarship wasn’t pulled” treatment, with the implication being “but we should be suspicious and can’t just take him on his word.” But when a kid comes out and says his scholarship WAS pulled suddenly, even when it is contradicted by other sources, we’re required to take it at face value.
Moreover, the suggestion that Michigan has pulled eight scholarships is just weird. He’s lumping the likes of Antwain Richardson (who from all indications the Michigan staff wanted), Vic Viramontes (who Michigan wanted, and who the MGoStaff REALLY wanted), and Matt Falcon (whose knee asploded several times), as well as situations where, to be tactful, qualification was an issue.
In one instance, a player coming off multiple knee injuries was told he could either retain his scholarship as a student or go elsewhere to play football. Some people have a problem with that. I don’t.
But wait, you just lumped him in with the eight. EIGHT, I say. Also, what about Harbaugh casting Kain Colter adrift in a life boat with a tiger because of a bum shoulder?
Harbaugh declined to comment Friday. A university spokesman emailed the Tribune to say "we won't be commenting at this time due to NCAA rules."
Couple of things here. First, this line was not in the original article that ran. It was added to subsequent versions, with no mention of a correction. Second, you'll note this was Friday, while the original article ran Thursday. Did Greenstein even ask for Michigan's side of the original story? There's no mention of it if he did. Also, keep that "NCAA rules" part in mind for later.
2: As I wrote, Harbaugh is taking advantage of a flawed system. For years players have decommited before signing day, “upgrading” and reneging on commitments. If you’re a Michigan fan, you might use that to justify Harbaugh’s methods.
But if Erik Swenson (much more on him below) was your son, would still feel that way?
If I’m Swen Swenson, (a) I have an awesome name, and would monogram everything I own, and (b) I would want my son to have the absolute best in everything. That’s how parenthood works. I’d bet my late father would have wanted me to receive multiple D1 offers. But I was 5’9” coming out of high school, and the world is a tough place.
You can argue about the relative merits of the current recruiting system all you want (and it’s a valid and important conversation), but when you write two articles using the word “Harbaugh” a total of 30 times, make no suggestion of any other coaches doing anything similar, use words like “mockery,” “greedy,” and “Nixonian,” and make a reference to Deflategate (which, still? Really? Do they not teach the Ideal Gas Law at Northwestern?), you have to say something that is specific to Harbaugh.
3: The most honest response to all this came from the Twitter feed @cubbygeorge: “GO BLUE whatever the costs!!!”
This is some next-level ad hominem shit right here. You don’t just attack the person rather than the position, you attack the person defending that person. One random person. With 33 followers. Who voluntarily roots for the Cubs.
4: The most interesting response came from Harbaugh’s Twitter feed, his only tweet since Sunday: “‘They said’ artificial sweeteners were safe, WMDs were in Iraq and Anna Nicole married for love ‘... ‘They said’”
So apparently we should not believe “they” … whoever they is.
That… that’s not even an argument. That’s just the weirdest retweet ever.
5: Let’s review what Swenson, an offensive lineman from the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, told the Tribune’s Bob Narang....”
In the interest of space, I'll just sumarize. You have all heard Swenson’s position; that he had NO indication that anything was amiss until a couple of days before the proverbial hammer dropped. Let’s remember that for a bit.
Also: “I was kind of taken back in the beginning, but that’s how those coaches are. There’s nothing you can change about them. They believe that’s how you should run the university and what’s best for the team. I was taken back. I fully intended to play there. I was nothing but loyal and was committed over two years. I helped them recruit several guys that are still there. I just felt used.”
This is where I am reminded how much this whole thing sucks. It has played out really poorly, and it left a kid who by all accounts LOVED Michigan without the opportunity he dreamed of. I feel bad for Erik Swenson. I just don’t know if he’s doing himself a service here.
6: A story that ran Friday on Michigan’s Rivals.com site, The Wolverine, included this:
"We have also been told by multiple sources (though admittedly one of those sources on the Michigan side) that the Swensons were told back in November that he no longer held a committable offer.
We were also told by a source out of Downers Grove that the Michigan coaches asked Swenson to camp at U-M over the summer so the staff could properly evaluate him (he refused) and we were told that it was understood that Swenson’s senior year would serve as an evaluation period because this coaching staff had never seen him in-person and wanted to know if he was a good fit for the program."
[ED: omitted additional unflattering comments from area coaches, for space and relevance]
So we have unnamed sources bashing Swenson OFF THE RECORD. ("Off the record," by the way, means not to be published. "On background" means you can use the information as long as it’s unattributed.)
This is where Teddy just loses me. There are very specific claims from Rivals, who is unquestionably a legitimate outfit with legitimate sources. Those claims are as follows:
Swenson was told back in November that he no longer held a committable offer.
Swenson was asked to camp at Michigan and refused.
The same Free Press article Greenstein links above contains a quote from Swenson’s OWN COACH who said, “we got some red flags three weeks ago, just comments made from coach encouraging Erik to make all five official visits (to other schools). That was the first indication it wasn’t heading in the direction we thought it was going.”
Greenstein’s entire rebuttal to this argument is that these sources are off the record. Not that they are wrong, or biased, or drunk. He doesn’t seem to recall that, as he mentioned like 500 words ago, Michigan *cannot* comment about him on the record. It’s an NCAA violation. Besides, not everyone is
off the record on background (ed: sorry, I did not go to Medill). Swenson’s own high school coach contradicts his story that Michigan lurched from the shadows like Brutus attacking Julius Caesar and metaphorically stabbed him in the back.
And Greenstein doesn’t want to believe this. Which, okay, I guess. There are two sides, and you can choose to believe whomever you want. But if Rivals’ sources say Michigan told Swenson months ago (and, FWIW, they are NOT the only ones saying so), and it is empirically true that rumors have floated on insider boards for weeks, and Swenson’s coach claims he knew something was up weeks ago, you have to at least TRY to explain why you reject all of that information in favor of the story of the recruiting equivalent of a jilted ex. Everyone knew but him, and none of these other conversations ever happened. His high school coach never mentioned it. None of his classmates or teammates or fellow recruits saw this information and passed it along so Erik could ask Drevno what was up. Occam, noted non-Medill graduate, is confused.
7: What’s interesting about The Wolverine piece is that it ignores stories that ran on its own website. From September to December, it ran two stories on Swenson.
Oct. 16: “Swenson is a Staple” … 743 words without a hint of any negative vibes from the coaching staff...
Nov. 13: “Swenson with the Scoop” … 401 words, again without a hint of any negative vibes from the coaching staff...
Does this sound like a player who was informed by coaches over the summer that his offer was conditional, that he was subject to an “evaluation period?”
Behold, the bait and switch. Rivals didn’t know in mid-November that Swenson’s situation had changed, therefore there was no way Swenson knew it had changed. And if you think about that for more than two seconds, it doesn’t pass the smell test. If you get a questionable performance review at work, that doesn’t get published in the company newsletter. If you’re failing, say, Journalism 100, no one issues a press release. For the kids who Michigan loses because they don’t qualify, Rivals didn’t run weekly updates on their Algebra scores.
The fact that Michigan didn’t bash Swenson publically is both logical and “ethical,” if we want to use that word. Teddy, you asked before how you would feel if you were Swen Swenson, to which I reply (a) monograms, and (b) I’d rather not see a Rivals headline saying “Michigan Questioning Whether Swenson Can Cut It,” both because it would be cruel and because it would taint him for other schools.
8: If Michigan was souring on Swenson in the fall, Harbaugh should have sat him down, looked him in the eye and told him exactly how he felt.
Dear reader, I ask you to go re-read point #6. The same point #6 that Greenstein brushed off, and made NO effort to contradict. According to Spath’s sources, Michigan sat Swenson down in the fall, looked him in the eye, and told him exactly how they felt.
9: I hope Harbaugh remains at Michigan for another 20 years because college football is way more interesting with him around. I also hope he realizes that the way he’s acting is unseemly. A great school deserves better.
One could say the same of a great publication. But sometimes people end up places above the level at which they can reasonably compete.
We can debate the merits of how Jim Harbaugh, or Michigan, or any school handles recruiting. But You have to start with the facts.