Jihad The Second: The Journalism-Type Substance Comment Count

Brian August 31st, 2009 at 2:28 PM

science-reporting Cartoon via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Previously: Practical Matters, Mike Forcier and Mike Schofield, Toney Clemons and countable hours, Stop bringing up Andrew Maxwell, and Rodriguez Press Conference Liveblog.

One nickel to the man who guesses the speaker of this statement about how much time college athletes put into their sports:

"Once you get past 40 hours, you're really pushing it, I think."

You get a nickel if you guessed NCAA president Myles Brand. He said this in response to a survey last year that found D-I football players spent 45 hours a week on football-related activities. So, yes, literally everyone is doing it. That's not a defense if the it in question is punching old ladies in the face, but it is when we're talking about an arbitrary cap on effort imposed by a bureaucracy. It's a defense when ludicrous doubling of NCAA regulations are alleged; if the stated average time put in by college athletes in an NCAA-sponsored survey is more than double the NCAA-mandated maximum, then that provides important context. Michigan's nine-hour Sundays—baldly asserted to be violations with zero wiggle: "every week started with a violation"—are plausibly legal.

Do the math: one day is gameday and one day is free by mandate. 45 hours / 5 days = 9 hours per day. Take away eight for a full eight-hour gameday and you still end up with 7.4. Clearly the NCAA regulations do not encompass all the hours players spend on football.

This article, which provides 100% relevant context, was not mentioned by the Free Press.

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Why was Toney Clemons anonymous? Clemons told ESPN's Joe Schad that would confirm the allegations, and was completely willing to speak on the record. It stretches belief to think that the Free Press didn't ask him and he didn't talk. He's at Colorado now and there are no possible repercussions aside from some guys writing unflattering things about him on the internet. And yet the Free Press report failed to name him or any other player they took a quote from except the freshmen who were undoubtedly talking about Michigan's voluntary offseason program.

Why is this? I go back to the paragraph that describes the people they talked to in impressive, but vague detail:

For this report, the Free Press interviewed 10 current or former players and the parents of four others. In separate interviews, five players gave almost identical accounts of how the program is run, and a sixth player confirmed most of the descriptions. Other players, as well as parents of additional players, discussed the conditions in general. Several players declined to be interviewed at length but did not dispute the allegations when asked specifically about them.

Ten "former or current players," of whom five or six are responsible for the quotes in the story and the description of the Rodriguez program. One of them is Toney Clemons. The other four or five… well, I'm sure anyone who's followed Michigan football over the last year and a half can mentally insert candidates for the other spots. Why not tell us that the core of the story included current players, and how many? It's not like asserting any specific number of current players is going to endanger the anonymous whistle-blowers.

The Free Press chose not to provide this information, instead choosing to leave this vague, and spurring question after question about team unity, or the lack thereof.

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Meanwhile in Florida:

To combat any complacency, Meyer has ordered strength coach Mickey Marotti to design the most difficult offseason that Florida's ever had.

"If there's any resistance," Meyer said, "that guy's not going to play."

This is a direct statement from Urban Meyer that a player who "resists" his punishing, "voluntary" offseason training regimen would not play—a bald assertion of power incompatible with the idea of voluntary attendance—and was not mentioned by the Free Press. Neither was this 2005 Ivan Maisel article on the Florida program titled "Offseason? Not anymore for title teams" or this USA Today article on increasingly mandatory "voluntary" summer conditioning that cites Mike Massey.

In fact, nowhere in the entire suite of articles is another program brought up except when two current members of Michigan State's team say—surprise!—they don't violate rules. Just like Mike Forcier and Mike Schofield.

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Tom talked to one of the freshmen quoted in the piece, who said he was upset with the way his words were used.

"I told them I lift weight at 8 until 10:30, go to class, and come back and work with [veteran player]. [Then] we go watch film. They turn it all around."

All of that is voluntary activity in the eyes of the NCAA. (It is possible, but unlikely, that the weights were countable; in any case the quotes from the freshmen were vast misrepresentations.)

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I bring all these items up because I was really angry at the reporting in the article in a way that I wasn't even when the Free Press gave us the by-the-numbers on what happened with Justin Feagin. I got upset later at the Rosenberg column on the thing, which launched a broadside at Rodriguez* without bothering to call Feagin's high school coach or check out his record. It is totally legitimate to find out what happened and then describe the facts, and that's what the original reporting on the Feagin case did.

But the article in question here was not that. I've been struggling to phrase it the right way, to come up with the right angle on it that adequately expresses the issue without descending to That Guy On The Internet stuff, and it turns out a reader—lawyer, naturally—did it for me:

I'm in Seattle this weekend so I was up late enough last night to read and digest the Rosenberg complaint. I call it a complaint because I'm a defense lawyer in Atlanta and read complaints written by plaintiffs' lawyers all the time. Their favorite tactic is to take a benign or easily explainable fact and put it in the worst light possible so as to sort of taint the defendant from the outset. I guess I didn't realize that Rosenberg was a columnist or some sort of writer employed to persuade readers to come to agree with his opinion rather than a journalist employed to investigate and report facts. He could not have written the entire thing in a more damning way - which is just what plaintiffs' lawyers do, except their job is to advocate on their client's behalf. 

I have another email from a different lawyer who makes the exact same comparison.

The article arranges things to advocate for its position. It is not objective. It mentions major violations, and the fact that Michigan has never had any, and suggests that these qualify. Not once in its vast breadth does it mention the near-universal existence of similar practices or what that implies for the likelihood of NCAA sanctions. It purposefully obscures the distribution of current and former players in the ten asserted sources, four or five of which are excluded from the information provided below.

I'm a blogger and a Michigan fan and totally public about my thoughts and loyalties. You know where I'm coming from, and can evaluate the arguments in this space based on that information. Since I wear my bias on my sleeve I have to deploy facts and precedents and reasoning convincing enough to overcome that. Rosenberg and the Free Press are clearly biased but wrap themself in a cloak of objectivity that disguises the intent behind the artfully arranged statements and, if you didn't happen to be a close observer of Michigan football, makes it appear like Rodriguez is a monster. Is this objective?

webber-freep

That's right: Chris Webber. Bill Martin's announcement, two sentences in a press release, had "the ominous tones of a bad, old script".  Is it even pretending to be objective anymore? I guess. But not well.

After the press conference today I asked Mark Snyder if he knew what a non-countable hour was. He refused to answer. I asked Michael Rosenberg, and he said yes. We then got into a conversation about the idea that many of the hours cited in the Free Press article were not countable and therefore would not trigger NCAA sanctions. I asked him why the article did not mention this, and he said it did. Here how well that assertion checks out:

countable

At no point does the article mention the idea that some "football-related activities" are not counted:

Players spent at least nine hours on football activities on Sundays after games last fall. NCAA rules mandate a daily 4-hour limit. The Wolverines also exceeded the weekly limit of 20 hours, the athletes said.

That's it. The only wave to the idea that some of the time was legitimate in the eyes of the NCAA is this passage:

The players said the off-season work was clearly required. Several of them said players who failed to do all the strength and conditioning were forced to come back to finish or were punished with additional work.

“It was mandatory,” one player said. “They’d tell you it wasn’t, but it really was. If you didn’t show up, there was punishment. I just felt for the guys that did miss a workout and had to go through the personal hell they would go through.”

"Clearly required" then washes away the idea that any of the time requirements in the program were voluntary for the rest of the article. There is no mention of what the alternatives to doing the additional work were. Were they "we yank your scholarship" or "you won't play"? The former is a violation; the latter is life. I suggested to Rosenberg that players probably had no idea what counted as mandatory to the NCAA and what didn't, and that it was ludicrous to believe Rodriguez could be flouting NCAA regulations so vastly for eight years without a hint of trouble. He blinked, and asked what my name was.

The Free Press systematically overstated their case by omitting contextual information and misrepresenting quotes about voluntary workout programs. They have repeatedly raised the specter of major, program crippling sanctions. They took a side, and if that side turns out to be wrong the people responsible for the story should be held responsible for their errors in judgment.

They won't, of course. If and when Michigan releases the results of its internal probe and announces they've come up with either nothing or a pu-pu platter of secondary violations, people will laugh at NCAA enforcement, cite the Jerry Tarkanian quote, and laud the journalistic effort that went into proving football players play a lot of football.

Comments

Mhpangr

August 31st, 2009 at 2:36 PM ^

Since we are a culture (at UM) known for our chants... I propose that for the WMU game, we change the 'YOU SUCK' to 'RICH ROD' for the entire game after 3 and outs.

ALONG WITH NEVER SITTING DOWN, NEVER STOP YELLING, BLUE-HAIR-SHAKING, ROSENBERG-FALLING-OUT-OF-HIS-SEAT, RAUCOUS GLASS SHAKING, JUMPING UP AND DOWN, CRAZIEST TAILGATE THROUGH GAME SCREAMING WE HAVE EVER SEEN.... just sayin'..

03 Blue 07

August 31st, 2009 at 2:46 PM ^

Well-written, and well-cited piece, Brian. I applaud you also for asking Snyder/Rosenberg about their article in person. You could hear it on the live feed of the press conference.

The thing that burns me the most about this situation is, simply, the bad PR. I don't think we violated any rules, given what counts as voluntary under NCAA guidelines. However, the brouhaha is very unfortunate and only gives fuel to the anti-RR camp.

david from wyoming

August 31st, 2009 at 2:46 PM ^

As a scientist, there is always a feeling in the hallway that we should be talking to reporters much more then we do. Most days I think sharing information with the public is a "Good Thing" and part of my job. And on days like today I fully understand why more scientists don't run to the local newspaper when something new is found out. Newspapers suck.

Blue2000

August 31st, 2009 at 5:27 PM ^

You're not really trying to defend the fact that Chi wrote this:

"The veracity of much of these revelations are, frankly, nearly impossible to refute"

are you? The statement in that WLA post is ridiculous. And the fact that it was written "before a lot of the details fully came out" only makes it more so. In fact it makes it near-Rosenbergian.

ShockFX

August 31st, 2009 at 6:12 PM ^

I think chi was referring to the amount of time they put in ('voluntary' or not, etc) and the accounts from the players being irrefutable. I don't think he's down with twisted out of context to fit a vindictive motive type shit.

If it makes you feel better, I think Rosenberg is a total fuckhead.

Geaux_Blue

August 31st, 2009 at 3:42 PM ^

i did and was immediately presented with "these accusations are very likely true and we are shamed as a result" - not in so much words but damn close.

i like how i keep getting neg'd. how else do you interpret this?

The excess of off-season conditioning seems impossible to refute – two Michigan freshmen – Je’Ron Stokes and Brandin Hawthorne – both of whom are in good standing, unwittingly detailed an off-season training program that, if true, would violate the NCAA rules nearly ten times over. ...
The simple facts are these – the Free Press published a story that is, in part, corroborated by current Michigan players on the record. Other portions are corroborated by a former Michigan player – Terrence Taylor – again, on the record. Other portions are corroborated by a number of anonymous sources. The veracity of much of these revelations are, frankly, nearly impossible to refute.

chitownblue2

August 31st, 2009 at 6:22 PM ^

I wrote it. The view is mine - many disagree with me, that's fine. Many at the WLA disagree with me. That's also fine.

For the record - there wasn't sarcasm. I did slightly garble my message in my eagerness to include the Robert Johnson story - referring to a "deal with the devil" makes my opinion on Rodriguez sound much worse than it is.

My main problem, really, is with the NCAA. I was an NCAA athlete. I think that allowing kids to spend 45+ hours a week on football in addition to going to class and having time to, you know, be a human being, is absurd. I think this time demand is a primary reason why College Football players graduate at rates substantially lower than any other D-I athlete. It seems to me, given the comments from Taylor and Trent, that the time demand under Carr wasn't the same. I'm under no impression that Michigan is unique in this practice, and fully aware that virtually all our competition demands this time commitment. Really - I get all of that.

There is something objectionable, to me, about a system that, totalling school and sports time together, demands over 80 hours a week from teenagers and young men, doesn't pay a cent for their time, and then spreads the immense profits around a group of coaches, rich white men, and corporations. It makes a mockery of the term "student athlete", and it's wrong, IME.

My writing blurred the line between referring to Rodriguez as "the devil" and referring to NCAA athletics as "the devil". Really, I meant NCAA athletics much, much more.

ShockFX

September 1st, 2009 at 3:04 AM ^

I know your stance on this chitown, but if you want this to change, it's not going to happen from the outside. If the players got a stipend, like $2k a semester, or something that makes it easy for them to buy a pizza or a drink or w/e, that would go a long way.

Also, to answer a question you posed about if Jansen, Dhani, Renes or others could happen anymore, I answer with this: Myron Rolle. UM(Carr's staff) didn't take his dreams seriously.

Section27

August 31st, 2009 at 2:49 PM ^

You have effectively calmed me down at a time when I have never felt such rage at the media before. Without you...

I might have killed the men responsible for this...

Shalom Lansky

August 31st, 2009 at 2:53 PM ^

Journalists are supposed to be society's watchdogs; Brian is the watcher of watchdog's, unfortunately his bark of logic isn't in the frequency of sensationalism, the only frequency national outlets hear.

The leaps of logic used to support the Freep's opinions are glaring. I'm ashamed of the Freep and all the other news outlets that report this story w/o mentioning the facts presented are insufficient to draw the conclusions listed.

The headlines along the lines of "Michigan Players Assert NCAA Violations" are infuriating. The players quoted said they spent A LOT of time on football related activities, it is the conclusion of the Freep that these activities amounted to a violation. Again, a conclusion that is not supported with analysis.

If Rosenberg and Snyder truly believe their conclusions they should write a follow-up piece analyzing the players' statements in context with the NCAA rules. I won't be holding my breath for that article.

Blazefire

August 31st, 2009 at 2:54 PM ^

Rosenberg needs to come out with some sort of answer for all the critics questioning his journalistic integrity. I mean, isn't he severely limiting his trustworthiness and hireability in the world of journalism?

If I were in charge of press for any entity, at this moment, I'd be revoking the Freep's press credentials.

Garvie Craw

August 31st, 2009 at 3:02 PM ^

I could put this in a dozen places, but I'll settle for here. What really bothers me is Lloyd Carr's silence. I've been around since Bo's first year, and I'm certain that if he were still alive he would have already have said somehing in Rich's defense. Bo was all about Michigan. We've all heard of the schism between the old guard and the new, and Lloyd's silence is deafening. I don't think he liked the hiring of Rodriguez. I don't think he likes hearing that the cupboard was bare when Rich arrived. I don't think he likes hearing how Barwis is finally getting these guys in shape. The first thing RR did upon his arrival was to completely update the weight training facilities, and that must have felt like a slap in the face to Gittleson and Carr. It's my belief that Carr has taken all of this personally, and he therefore isn't going to utter one word in support of Rich Rodriguez.

Wolverine96

August 31st, 2009 at 3:15 PM ^

From what I have heard and can infer, I am confirming your belief how Lloyd feels about Rodriguez. Lloyd was supportive of the hire initially, but has gotten perturbed with the assertations about the "country club atmosphere," the "lack of talent," etc. That is the source of Lloyd's issue with RR.

David

August 31st, 2009 at 3:26 PM ^

I don't think that's fair. Please point me to specific examples where you think Lloyd has gotten perturbed.

Lloyd hated talking to the media and was not present during the summer to either verify or rebut these allegations. He doesn't know the intricacies of RichRod's practice schedule. How would a comment from him make a difference?

It's not about blind faith in the program.

Logan88

August 31st, 2009 at 7:07 PM ^

Carr either developed a serious case of the runs or he REALLY did not want to talk about Rod.

Wow!

I've heard speculation about Carr's feelings towards Rodriguez, but this is the first time I have actually seen something that made me believe that LC does have "issues" with RR.

InterM

August 31st, 2009 at 3:23 PM ^

I know some folks are saying Carr is keeping quiet to make it clear that he has stepped aside and that it's Rodriguez's program now. Only problem -- it appears that most or all of the disgruntled players are his recruits. On WTKA this morning, they played a great clip from a Bo speech talking about the importance of the team, having each other's backs, and not speaking against each other. Isn't Carr in a good position to fault his own players for failing to make their complaints in-house (even Freep confirms no reports whatsoever to in-house compliance people) and instead yapping to the media about the "bad people" running Michigan's football program? Doesn't it seem likely that Bo would have something to say about this?

Now, of course I realize that Carr was Bo's guy, so Bo could be expected to come to his defense. Still, aren't there expectations that any Michigan player is expected to meet, and isn't one of those that players shouldn't bad-mouth the program to outsiders? I feel pretty certain that Bo felt that way -- does Carr? If so, is he planning on saying so? I guess I should add that he need not publicly grandstand about this, but here's hoping that at least some behind-the-scenes calls are being made to some of his former players (something, of course, that we wouldn't necessarily know he was doing).

MGoBlog Fan

August 31st, 2009 at 2:58 PM ^

"journalism-like substance" in the Freep by Shawn Windsor, attempting to demonstrate "outrage and disbelief" amongst the U-M fanbase by quoting a comment poster on MGOBLOG [sic] and a sportstalkradio caller to 97.1.

http://www.freep.com/article/20090831/SPORTS06/908310360/1318/

Awful. I'm not a Michigan fan but I stand up with you M fans in principle against the Freep and it's increasingly desperate attempts to increase readership through titillating yellow journalism.

dakotapalm

August 31st, 2009 at 2:59 PM ^

Brian is the man. I agree, bhallpm, reading the blog is voluntary... in that finding coherent writing about Michigan football is apparently voluntary, also.

Wolv54

August 31st, 2009 at 3:00 PM ^

is that people with an agenda can attack RR and our Program with seemingly no reprecussions for their actions. Even if a 1000 people drop their subscriptions, what does that really do, wilt the flower a little faster? This type of reporting is not happening just in the sports world. This is the modern day journalist.

I think RR will learn a lesson from Bo and LC and he'll build the walls up so that nobody gets access and everything is down in a veil of secrecy, insomuch as look what the past 18 months of opening up the doors to the media has done for UM. Yes, we've gotten some good information to feed our addictions in the off-season, but the rats have also come out to feed. I can only think that of all of the people who have heard or seen the PC today, only the two Free P guys, Rosenberg and Snyder took joy in seeing what they have done to RR. I have said this in the past, the guy does not deserve the treatment he has gotten since he's been here and I am ashamed that UM has not been more forceful in defense of their coach and their program.

I know Bill Marting is too cool to make public threats and turn this into a media circus, but I think that the UM fanbase has enough influence in the state to send a very quiet, but powerful message to the local rats. I say put the walls back up, keep the rats out, and focus on winning football games, no matter how many involuntary hours it takes.

blue note

August 31st, 2009 at 3:01 PM ^

Great post, way to get it all out in the open and not avoid anything.

One nit though, gameday does count for 3 hours of the weekly total, even though players spend far more than 3 hours on gameday related mandatory stuff.

BlueNote

August 31st, 2009 at 3:01 PM ^

You are right. There will be no repercussions for the bad journalism from the Freep.

There is probably no legal claim to be made, first because it is damn hard to win a defamation case when you're a public figure, and second because it's not politically intelligent for UM do drag this story on for 1-2 years.

The most effective way to counteract this particular bad press is with good press. We must write and comment and make our voices the most reasonable, persuasive and visible.

You have taken a giant first step.

medals

August 31st, 2009 at 3:03 PM ^

That Rosenberg did not know who you [Brian] are by sight and yet covers the UM football team (as his livelihood!!!) speaks volumes about his qualifications. To steal a phrase from Chait's article on Rivals, it is akin to jounalistic malpractice.

Shalom Lansky

August 31st, 2009 at 3:07 PM ^

I think Rosenberg asking for Brian's name was a calculated insult. It was Rosenberg's way of calling Brian small time because he isn't a member of the MSM. Rosenberg's agenda is questionable but after reading his writing for many years I don't think his knowledge or intelligence are.