Mailbag!

Submitted by Brian on April 29th, 2009 at 11:33 AM

Brian,

Can you comment further about the lack of scheduling significant conference games.  Is this a RichRod issue, or Bill Martin's doing?  Back when I was in school we consistently played Notre Dame along with one other BCS school - UCLA, Washington, Virginia, Colorado, etc.  Even the road games would be nice for alumni who no longer live the Midwest and want to make a trip.  Now with the news of Michigan St. scheduling Alabama and West Virginia, do you think this will light a fire and help this awful situation.  Thanks,

Steve

It's not a Rodriguez thing. As noted earlier, Michigan hasn't played a nonconference road game outside of South Bend since 2003, and the respectable opponents other than Notre Dame since have been accidents: Michigan's return game for the Oregon series was put off a few years because Michigan wanted to lighten its schedule in a year when they had, like, three(!) actual opponents in the noncon, and Utah may have finished #2 but remains a Mountain West team that didn't seem like it would be a juggernaut when Martin put them on the schedule.

Michigan's schedule softening is not new, nor is it unique. Just look at That Object You Could Describe As A School If You Were Being Charitable Down South: USC or Texas and a rotating selection of MAC schools and instate I-AA programs.

As for the State scheduling thing putting pressure on Michigan to man up… probably not going to happen as long as Michigan Stadium seats 110,000 and everywhere else doesn't. (Also, two of those years Michigan State is on a break with ND and needs a replacement.) Teams these days don't want to fall behind the financial eight-ball, or something, and schedule as weakly as possible because everyone else does. Bill Martin:

"I don't particularly like (scheduling FCS schools), but in order for us to have 25 sports and have this broad-base program, you've got to bring in the revenues," Michigan athletic director Bill Martin said. "If you were to play home and home with all these others schools, you wouldn't have this revenue. We need those home-game revenues."

I buy this zero percent since a huge chunk—probably 100% of it—of the increased revenue either goes towards paying coaches ever-increasing sums of money or building ever more opulent opium dens for the players to lounge in after practice. From a 2007 post that somehow didn't make it over to the new site:

One might be forgiven for thinking that the NCAA has ceased to be an actual regulatory organization and is instead a highly complex scheme for funneling money into Nick Saban's Scrooge McDuck vault, where he puts on an old-fashioned unitard bathing suit and gleefully leaps into his piles of gold coins. And it's not just Saban. This relatively ancient Bloomberg article from March 2005 takes a look at the increase in NCAA coaching salaries across the board from '97 to '03 and finds that average compensation went up 89 percent in just six years. This is before the twelfth game. (Though it's noted that there were some twelfth games in there. That was a calendar quirk and not permanent policy, however.) This is before 3-2-5e. This before Superfluous BCS Bowl and The Two Teams With Six Wins Each bowls. This includes the obscurest coaches you can think of, like Romanian Buffalo Polo.

Eighty-nine percent in six years.

!!!

This trend has slowed in no way whatsoever. This Dispatch article came out two weeks ago and details shockingly opulent salaries for even the most obscure sports, with lacrosse coaches raking in 200k and the average Big Ten baseball coach—the Big Ten is a mid-major in baseball—bringing in over 150k. Your average Big Ten field hockey, softball, and rowing(!) coaches are making 92k, 111k, and 79k.

Transport isn't getting more expensive. The athletes are getting paid the same amount they always were. The costs of running a college athletics program have changed in no fundamental way. "We need more money" is always relative to the other people who have just finished their Vegas casino/study hall. It's about priorities, not necessity. Let's not pretend otherwise.

Use this clip as a metaphor. The Red Wings are economic inevitability, the Park County Pee Wee Hockey Team is Michigan's athletic department, and we… we are Nelson:

No hope. No hope. (eeeeee)

Hi Brian,

With rumblings from spring practice that the offensive line is much improved; I can’t help but think this will have a positive impact on our thin defensive corps this fall (obvious quarterback play/health notwithstanding).  It seems that all of the three and out series, and quick turnovers, caused our defense to be on the field an inordinate amount of time last year, especially in the first half of games.  Is there any data out there that supports this (time of possession, number of plays etc.) for Michigan last year, and is there general statistical tracking regarding won/lost record and the time that defenses spend on the field?

Thanks for any response

Jeff,

Petoskey MI

Ooooh. I was with you until you got to "time." Time of possession is this blog's most loathed stat. But your larger point is well taken. The fundamental unit of a football game is widely believed to be the play. The emphasis of the statistically inclined rests on yards per carry or per attempt. Football Outsider's big stat, DVOA, is a per-play stat.

All of this is well and good but I've always felt that the fundamental unit of the football game is the possession and that defenses and offenses should be rated based on their possession efficiency: you moved the ball from the 30 to the opponent's 37 and got a 54 yard field goal. Congratulations. You moved the ball from your ten to the opponent's ten and got a chip shot field goal. Bigger congratulations, but not nearly as much as you would get for sticking it in the endzone. DVOA sort of does this by evaluating each play by how it effects the probabilistic outcome of the drive. A two yard run on first down has negative value because second and eight two yards closer to the line is a less likely situation to score from than first and ten. The focus on per-play metrics tends to blur out a huge factor in the outcome of a football game: where and when your possessions start.

Delta School
-38 UCLA
-37 Georgia
-35 Wyoming
-30 New Mexico St.
-29 Wisconsin
-28 Miami (Fla.)
-25 Mississippi St.
-25 Nebraska
-24 LSU
-24 Oregon St.
-22 Tulane
-21 Hawaii
-21 Arkansas
-20 Toledo
-18 Louisville
-18 South Carolina
-17 Michigan
-16 Connecticut
-16 San Jose St.
-16 Ohio

Blah blah blah. To your point: yes, Michigan's defense suffering a wholesale, historic collapse in the same year the offense suffered a wholesale, historic collapse and kick returners came down with a severe allergy to leather is no coincidence. (Zoltan playing out of his mind mitigated that somewhat.) I know this in my heart, and I could prove it to you with numbers except the database I maintained is out of date.

HOWEVA, there's one big, broad stroke that indicates your instinct is correct: Michigan finished 67th in yards allowed and 84th in scoring defense, which is an indicator they were put in poor field position repeatedly and faced a lot of drives against. That gap is significant but not as huge as some other teams experienced. See the table at right: "Delta" is the difference between a team's rank in total defense minus its rank in scoring defense. The top (bottom?) 20 teams are listed. Michigan finishes 17th.

Unsurprisingly, Kevin Craft and The Interception Machines finish first, which is an excellent sanity check for what the stat means, as did flailing offenses at LSU, Mississippi State, Toledo (uh…), and Michigan. On average the teams at right finished 71st in total offense,—60th would be the expected number for a truly random sampling— which suggests there is a correlation between having a defense that gives up more points than it does yards and having a crappy offense. Even more strikingly, the teams at right collectively finished 92nd(!!!) in turnover margin, which is a huge outlier amongst a set of 20 D-I teams. There is an extremely strong correlation between horrible turnover numbers and this stat. (Which, like ok duh.)

Bad offense and bad turnover numbers yield big gaps between a team's yardage defense and its scoring defense: teams don't have to go as far to score. Michigan was 109th in total offense and 104th in turnover margin. Should those numbers bounce up towards average the defense will move with them without lifting a finger.

Will they? Well, it would be hard for them not to.

Brian,

I'm really excited about next years basketball season. I purchased season tickets already, and i read an article that said that over 1,000 students have also, and they plan on the number to be even higher as the year goes on. One concern i have though, is the size of our student section, its roughly 500 students and one side of the court, and then about 90 more behind the band, but not close to the court. Now i have also been to a MSU basketball game this season where they boast a student with the same amount of rows as us, but fully surrounding the court, and roughly 1100+ students. I am just wondering if the AD has any intention on changing this, and trying to get a lot more students next to the court. This would be very important because i feel that a student section is key to getting a teams momentum going.

Thanks,
Marshall Turner

So, I committed something approximating an act of journalism here, emailing SID Bruce Madej about this. I asked if there were plans to expand the bleacher section if demand warranted, or if there were options other than that. His response:

There is discussion on a number of fronts and yes, the talk has been to get the students down into the action when the numbers and participation increases. But it is still in the discussion stage. Can something happen quickly, possibly for 2009-10? I do not know. But it would not be with bleachers, it would be with the current seats

The early ticket application in the football season ticket mailing will help the department get a better idea of what to expect and then what to do for the upcoming season. Remember, when we do build the new practice area, there will be some changes in the southeast corner of the lower bowl.

I asked if it would be "fair to say" expanded seating in the lower bowl next year was unrealistic, and he said no, they were considering expanded student seating there. The implication was that more bleachers next year was unrealistic—though it is a possibility they're discusssing. I'd think you'll see students wrapping around the court in the endzone areas in actual bucket seats. So… they're thinking about it, and seem to have the atmosphere inside Crisler in mind. Who wants some FREEE PIZZZA?

Comments

Route66

April 29th, 2009 at 11:59 AM ^

I also liked the breakdown that got thick about our offense leaving our defense out to dry. I really believe that this is one of the huge keys to us seeing a 4-5 game turnaround or a 1 game turnaround. If we can stay away from a fist half like ND we will make some hay.

With the proper parts in place, this offense will be potent.* Do not forget that. In turn, hopefully giving the defense some much needed confidence and rest.

*more potent than last year but not as potent as 2010, etc.

jblaze

April 29th, 2009 at 12:35 PM ^

One way to look at it, "building ever more opulent opium dens for the players to lounge in after practice."

The alternative is that M needs the money for an upgraded football & basketball stadium, 2 new practice fields, a brand new weight room, and a "tribute" aka payments made back to the U.

Besides, if ND or OSU built an "opulent opium den" that helped recruiting, we would all be mad as he** at Bill Martin.

Michigan Arrogance

April 29th, 2009 at 12:56 PM ^

it's not a M thing, it's not a LC thing, it's not a RR thing, it's not a BM thing. it IS a CFB thing.

even if martin/RR wanted to get another good team on the sched, the other team wouldn't want to give up a home game either.

Brian

April 29th, 2009 at 1:27 PM ^

I understand why Michigan feels it has to do what it feels it has to do. That's why my proposed solutions are always about the NCAA outlawing something and not along the lines of we should never play MAC teams.

Ok, mostly we should never play MAC teams. I think the benefit in increased exposure would offset the slight costs of going on the road once every three years.

OMG...LOVE_RR

April 29th, 2009 at 1:43 PM ^

i see the money argument, but i agree that michigan should never schedule a bowl subdivision team (or whatever they're called now) there seems to be no upside. you win, and its what you're supposed to do. but if you lose then OMGGGWEREALLGONNADIE (see app state, cover of si, etc). at least when we lost to toledo it won't go down as one of (if not thee) biggest upsets in college football.

if we have to schedule a cupcake, we should stick to random-midmajor-team-from-weak-conference. a deleware st has no more upside than a random northern illni team.

WolvinLA

April 29th, 2009 at 3:50 PM ^

You can't say "I see the money argument" and then say "there's no upside to scheduling an FCS team." Unless you meant "outside of the money argument there's no upside."

This is the equivalent to me saying "I don't see what's wrong with hooking up with that girl outside of the fact that she has a dick."

OMG...LOVE_RR

April 29th, 2009 at 8:57 PM ^

apparently you chose to ignore the entirety of my post so ill copy and paste it for you right here:

if we have to schedule a cupcake, we should stick to random-midmajor-team-from-weak-conference. a deleware st has no more upside than a random northern illni team.

the money argument still works if we get the lowly midmajor team. id prefer a toledo/miami of ohio/san diego state/and whatever mid major we've played recently to any appy state/delware st. etc.

nice try with the analogy though.

Tater

April 29th, 2009 at 5:28 PM ^

They should put a student ring around the football field, too.

That would definitely help make the Big House a much more difficult place for opponents. Also, it would put the "down in front" people further from the action and the numbers in front of them would diminish their ability to have any effect at all on anyone.