Jihad The Second: Tentative Results Comment Count

Brian February 26th, 2010 at 1:23 PM

jihad-2006-2007-tercera-guerra-mundial-01lg barwis

don't call it a comeback, jihad's been here for years

So.

After Tuesday's press conference we have all been apprised of what Michigan stands accused of and can go back to the original article and this site's response to that article and evaluate those claims for accuracy. One thing leaps out at me about my response: having little experience with "major violations" that didn't involve hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash changing hands, I didn't comprehend where the line between "secondary" and "major" lies. It turns out that everything down to a few TRENCH WARRIOR hats is major, so this paragraph that wraps up my deconstruction of the journalism-type substance turns out to be wrong:

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.

…but only the word "secondary." Michigan will get hit with a major violation after all. They will take some largely symbolic punishment. This is not victory for the University. But it's closer to a win for them (and it's not very close) than it is for the Free Press.

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A series of quotes. The Free Press:

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.

Toney Clemons:

"The allegations are true," Clemons said. "Nothing is fabricated or exaggerated in that story. I was there on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. depending on if guys needed treatment. You were there daylight to nighttime."

Yrs truly:

I am willing to wager many amounts of money that the Sunday lifting was of the variety that fits the NCAA's definition of voluntary, as was the film. The rehab/examinations/dinner and any downtime in between practice and film and other activities definitely don't count. At no point has anyone in the media even broached this possibility. It has not occurred to them. Some of them specifically omit it because it conflicts with their aims; some are just professional parrots.

When Michigan releases its compliance information, Michigan will check in at four hours of countable activity on Sunday. If they're over at all it will be by a small amount. I bet a dollar.

The NCAA:

Between August 31 and October 26, 2008, football student-athletes were required to participate in as many as five hours of countable athletically related activities per day, which exceeded the maximum of four hours a day, on several occasions, including, but not limited to, August 31; September 7, 14 and 28; and October 5, 12, 19 and 26. Additionally, during the week beginning October 19, 2008, the student-athletes were required to participate in approximately 20 hours and 20 minutes of countable athletically related activities, which exceeded the maximum of 20 hours per week. [NCAA Bylaw 17.1.6.1]

Someone owes me a dollar.

There is another allegation accusing the program of even slighter overages (a half-hour at most) during the early parts of the 2009 season, after the article came out. We will see why Michigan went over when the details come out, but it's safe to say given David Brandon's statements that Michigan will argue they were erroneously lumping stretching in with various explicitly non-countable activities. Michigan's violations were borne of incompetence, sloppiness, and misinterpretation.

That's not why the Free Press story was major news last year. No one picks up the story "Michigan could be slightly over their daily allotted maximum in countable hours." The lurid allegations that Michigan was not just exceeding but totally ignoring NCAA limits on football-related activities are the entire crux of the Free Press article. With one brief assertion that the players interpreted the technically voluntary activities as mandatory, the Free Press dismisses the idea that a non-countable hour exists. In this they were not only totally wrong but dishonest. Honesty requires framing the facts in a responsible way. No effort was made at this.

They omitted useful context like this statement from NCAA president Myles Brand:

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

It took two seconds to Google that. It came from an article in an obscure paper called "USA Today" that featured a survey that found D-I football players spent 45 hours a week on football-related activities.

They kept every player who spoke anonymous, even those who had left the program, except for the freshmen whose words they twisted badly. They ignored a raft of articles with quotes that provide context relative to other Division I programs:

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."

And they didn't put the word "countable" in their story once. This was not ignorance: when I asked Mike Rosenberg if he knew what a "countable hour" was, he said yes. Mark Snyder, ironically, refused to answer.

They did all this in service of making Michigan's marginal rules violations—violations that college football coaches attest to SportsCenter anchors would befall 90% of Division I—seem utterly lawless. A newspaper that cared about journalism would fire everyone involved with the story now that the NCAA's worst-case scenario has definitively proven that the truth was a secondary objective in the Free Press story, if it was considered at all.

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As for the program: we don't know the details of what went on yet so I can't say whether or not this has a major impact on my opinion of Rodriguez. The NCAA allegations fall in a gray area where it's not immediately clear how bad the violations actually are or are not.

The in-season overages are laughable, consisting of some days that were slightly too long and exactly twenty minutes of actual extra time beyond the 20-hour weekly limit. If the out-of-season overages are entirely encompassed by extra conditioning for kids who missed class, they're stupid on the part of someone in the department but basically honorable. I think there will be other things, though, as there are overages for both "voluntary" conditioning and summer countable hours. What those things are will matter.

The situation with the quality control staffers—obvious here from day one as the most damaging section of the allegations—is potentially worse. I've heard plenty of potential mitigating factors and some of the charges, like "QC staffer helps players stretch," are self-evidently TRENCH WARRIOR-type violations. Others seem like organized efforts to avoid NCAA rules. If they are that's at the very least stupid.  If Michigan has a reasonable explanation for this that the NCAA accepts, fine. I've heard they will, but that remains the quintessential rumor you want to believe.

I'll withhold judgment on the program until then. My guess is that it will be sloppy on Rodriguez's part and worse for certain members of the compliance staff. After some heads roll and Michigan gives back some practice time, it will be over. Dave Brandon has quite a job to do reorganizing the department into something competent.

This is a softball strike against Rodriguez. Another NCAA investigation that turns up anything major and he's gone. Does it affect how much he needs to win next year? Not for me personally, and I don't think for anyone important.

What would change that? Sanctions, self-imposed or not, that seem to seriously impinge on the program's ability to compete the next two years. Scholarship reductions that last past 2010. (IE: are anything other than symbolic.)

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A final note: I can't emphasize enough how much of a hit job this was. Until such time as Drew Sharp, Michael Rosenberg, and Mark Snyder are no longer at the paper, if you are a Michigan fan with a Free Press subscription you should terminate it immediately. If you link to a Free Press article it should be the print page and it should be nofollowed. If you visit the Free Press website, you should have adblock on. If you write for Michigan's Rivals site you should not write for the Free Press. It's not because they took a swing at Michigan's program. It's because they were blatantly dishonest in doing so.

Comments

bliang

February 26th, 2010 at 2:44 PM ^

Moe Greene and gordie bell are right on the money.

Now that you've made your point many times over (easier: 7 pages of free press jihad), let's move on. We get it; you think the free press is terrible. It's not like they have exclusive rights to shoddy journalism.

As someone who is no longer in the area, I couldn't care less about some mediocre metropolitan newspaper (except when Drew Sharp is on ESPN). I'd rather see something like... UFR for the ohio state game.

bliang

February 26th, 2010 at 3:59 PM ^

Oh, I'm sorry. I thought this was a blog about UofM sports. I'll look forward to the next rant on how biased and unfair the Freep's reporting is. In particular, I hope there are more personal attacks against individuals (journalists / editors), especially those that (for the last year or so) I already know are terrible at their jobs.

You're absolutely correct, McEnroe is the voice of reason.

Blue2000

February 26th, 2010 at 1:34 PM ^

If the editors and or columnists/journalists at the FREEP had any honestly or journalistic integrity in them, they'd respond the this column and explain why the allegations in the original story appear to be so far from the truth.

Of course they don't and they won't.

The Other Brian

February 26th, 2010 at 1:39 PM ^

"A final note: I can't emphasize enough how much of a hit job this was. Until such time as Drew Sharp, Michael Rosenberg, and Mark Synder are no longer at the paper, if you are a Michigan fan with a Free Press subscription you should terminate it immediately. If you link to a Free Press article it should be the print page and it should be nofollowed. If you visit the Free Press website, you should have adblock on. If you write for Michigan's Rivals site you should not write for the Free Press. It's not because they took a swing at Michigan's program. It's because they were blatantly dishonest in doing so."

Co. Freaking. Signed.

Atlanta_Blue

February 26th, 2010 at 1:39 PM ^

I stopped reading the Freep altogether after the article came out. I don't miss is one bit, particularly with sites like this to give me actual news about M football. I hate to root for any business in economically-downtrodden Michigan to go under, but I will be very happy when the Freep packs it in (hopefully within the next 2-3 years).

harmon98

February 26th, 2010 at 1:41 PM ^

truthiness (noun)
1 : "truth that comes from the gut, not books" (Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," October 2005)
2 : "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true" (American Dialect Society, January 2006)

Blue boy johnson

February 26th, 2010 at 1:42 PM ^

Ok the Freep sucks I get it, but that is not doing anything for the sorry state of Michigan football the past 2 seasons. I think it is imperative that RR have a winning record this season.

"This is a softball strike against Rodriguez. Another NCAA investigation that turns up anything major and he's gone. Does it affect how much he needs to win next year? Not for me personally, and I don't think for anyone important."

ken725

February 26th, 2010 at 2:49 PM ^

A boycott is good, but...

I'm not saying anyone do the following, but hypothetically what if the following were to happen:

Infiltrate the printing press and the hack the Freep website. We sabotage articles that were written by the select idiots. Some innocent people might get caught up in this mess, since I'm assuming there are some good people at the Freep. Collateral damage is expected.

quakk

February 26th, 2010 at 1:43 PM ^

Honest question.

What if they had come out and said the team was violating rules by having QC people present at voluntary activities, and that they were going over allowed practice time by 20 minutes.

i.e. if they had reported the true nature of the 'violations' with journalistic integrity.

Would your opinion of the Free Press be the same?

Then, what if they had instead approached the administration of the university they love and said, 'Whoa, you guys are running a little afoul of the law.' The problem was dealt with in-house, and never saw the light of day.

Just curious.

Is it the reporting of violations that have people angry, or simply the blatant disregard for anything resembling the truth? Or both?

For me, I don't have a problem, fundamentally, with identifying problems. But the nature of this investigation, as are many things in the press these days, was so sensational and inflammatory as to do nothing but incite the masses.

BeantownBlue

February 26th, 2010 at 3:13 PM ^

"Is it the reporting of violations that have people angry, or simply the blatant disregard for anything resembling the truth? Or both?"

It's the blatant disregard for the truth. Or to be more specific, the active choice to NOT report facts that would have lessened the sensational blow they were hoping to deliver. They made no attempt to interview (or at least print quotes from) athletes who provided alternate views of the practice schedule. They didn't report any difference between countable hours and non-countable hours.

They made an active choice to avoid writing a balanced story in order to sell newspapers. So now it's our job to make the active choice to avoid reading their (soon to be out of business) paper.

El Jeffe

February 27th, 2010 at 12:03 AM ^

Minor threadjack: this to me is a good example of how thoughtfully, politely worded posts that essentially run counter to what passes for a "party line" are not routinely negged into oblivion.

Bravo, quakk. And bravo, non-negging MGoBlogger types.

Heinous Wagner

February 26th, 2010 at 1:44 PM ^

As for the Freep, they must fan the flames via editorials and follow-up stories. Otherwise, their original reporting is discredited. "Original reporting" means their assertions about the level and degree of the violations. Expect months of, "See! See! We told you!" Then invoke the old Afghan saying, "The dogs bark, but the caravan passes by."

I hope Brian and the team has the network going with others on the blogroll to see how their programs are reacting to this. If "everyone is doing it," then these programs will be prudently correcting themselves to avoid being the next ones to be made examples of. They will want to do this as quietly as possible. But inquiring minds will want to know.

And finally, a question for all those gloating Sparties out there. Which would you prefer: a team of football players practicing too much, or a gang of assaultive thugs?

ssuarez

February 26th, 2010 at 1:45 PM ^

Has there been a push to get writers like Josh Hemholdt to stop writing for the Freep on the rivals boards? What is the general opinion over there on the proposed boycott.

oakapple

February 26th, 2010 at 1:50 PM ^

Brian is entirely correct that the Freep was irresponsible, the story was sloppily reported, and many of the worst allegations were untrue.

However, that is not how it's perceived in the broader community. Because U-M did not emerge squeaky clean, the perception is that the Freep allegations were at least "directionally correct."

It is never a good thing when it takes a newspaper reporter, even a dirty reporter, for you to discover that your program isn't following all of the rules. And it is a bit difficult for me to believe that neither Rodriguez nor his coaches knew what the so-called "Quality Control Assistants" were doing.

Like Brian, I am surprised to learn that basically any violation is, with rare exceptions, considered "major". I think there is a problem with any system that lumps such a wide swath of activity under the same label. But of course, it's the schools' own fault for giving the NCAA so much power.

Enjoy Life

February 26th, 2010 at 1:53 PM ^

Sure hope I never meet any of these freep morons face to face.

I have been known to launch into a profanity laced diatribe on much less instigation (just ask the folks that used to go through the parking lot at football games claiming we were all going to hell for being there). It would be fun though.

aawolve

February 26th, 2010 at 4:52 PM ^

Find something more fulfilling to do than reading a rag that you already know is not a reliable source of information. There are so many superior activities. Build ships in bottles, join a big brother/big sister program, master mahjong, masturbate, whatever.

J. Lichty

February 26th, 2010 at 1:55 PM ^

A newspaper that cared about journalism would fire everyone involved with the story now that the NCAA's worst-case scenario has definitively proven that the truth was a secondary objective in the Free Press story, if it was considered at all.

The Freep only looks bad to those of us who think that the media should be fair, unbiased and accurate. To those who wish Michigan ill, they will be lauded as whistleblowers who uncovered major violations. The sad thing is that they are not entirely incorrect - had the Freep not pushed this story, the investigation never would have happened and Michigan would have continued to break the rules, which it appears they have admittidly done.

Animus and greed (which the Freep has in spades) are sometimes the only incentive for a whistleblower to expose wrongdoing occuring in secret. That the Freep lied, or exaggerated will not be remembered, what will be remembered is that they started a chain of events that led the U of M to admit committing major violations.

aawolve

February 26th, 2010 at 1:56 PM ^

Is it over the top that I would ruin Rosenberg's dinner if I saw him at a restaurant? I have no doubt in my ability to do so. I'm still going to do it if I see him, just curious.

PurpleStuff

February 26th, 2010 at 2:52 PM ^

I've sort of been harboring the hope since this whole thing started that some day one of these ass clowns would saunter up to the urinal next to me in the men's room. At that point I would only be a subtle 90 degree turn away from greatness.

Sadly, I will most likely miss the opportunity because I maintain a strict "eyes in front" policy while at the trough and I tend to only recognize people who are actually famous.

jamiemac

February 26th, 2010 at 2:04 PM ^

Freep does too much good work covering actual news and serving as a watchdog of government for me to support a full boycott.

It's just sports, the toy store of life, after all. Of course, I havent actually seeked out the Freep's sports section since the day after the Tigers won the pennant, and only then for headline keepssakes purposes.

But, carry on, if you must.

ThWard

February 26th, 2010 at 2:19 PM ^

I can empathize a bit. When I lived in Detroit, I considered the Freep to be vastly superior to the DetNews in keeping a check on local gov't (particularly back when they'd pursue stories re: the McNamara machine that no one else would). Still, even then I think the Metro Times was superior in that regard.

Regardless, you're right that sports are just a side story - but I do think the hit job goes a bit deeper. It's not message-board level "O$U is dirty" sort of stuff. It's a direct attempt to smear the program, which plays a key role in the most important institution in my life (I re-read that and realize how sappy it sounds, but ask my wife, it's true - the U of M, large, is the most important institution in my life). And, even if the Freep is still doing yeoman's work as a watchdog (not living in the area anymore, I really can't speak to it - I get my Detroit news from my parents, who, yes, might get it from the Freep), I'd stand by this: (i) in today's media, there's literally nothing that the Freep can report on or do that I can't find from an alternative source soon thereafter; and (ii) if the Freep's professional journalists were to suffer a hit because the editors allow the sports journalists to run amuck, well, hopefully they'll insist on the same standards of journalism for every staff department. If anything, it bothers me MORE that the sports journalists peddle their hit jobs under the cloak of the Freep-at-large's formerly respectable reputation as a news source.

TomW09

February 26th, 2010 at 9:56 PM ^

"It's a direct attempt to smear the program"

But is it really? Yes, that is what the end result was, but I really don't think that people can logically make the jump that the Free Press was out to ruin the University of Michigan.

Rather, the Free Press was out to make a splash with a big article name. They were out to sensationalize. And the biggest and best way to do that, in the sporting world, is to dig into Michigan Football - a side effect of being the biggest program in the area.

Does it make it any better? No. But if Michigan State Basketball was THE program, I don't think we could say that the Freep would ignore current and former players if they mentioned possible wrong-doings by the University.