Mailbag: About Obviously Comment Count

Brian June 2nd, 2011 at 12:05 PM


via the always brilliant Prevail and Ride. Warning: cartoon genitalia ahead.

Should the Late Carr Malaise be re-evaluated in light of the fact that USC and Ohio State were cheating on epic scales?

The Horror, 2007 Oregon and 2005 Minnesota still happened, of course. But 2003 and 2006 might look very different to us if USC and OSU hadn’t been quite so stacked—in which case we might see 2005 and 2007 as off years rather than symptoms of a systematic decline.

Yours in Michigan Football Historiography,


Possibly? It's impossible to tell how much of an advantage Ohio State got with its Tats For Everyone program and USC got with its Look, Snoop Dogg(!) program, and the list of knocks against Lloyd Carr's career gets a lot shorter if you remove "could not beat USC or Jim Tressel" from the list.

Carr might be regarded on par with Bo today if he'd flipped some scores in USC Rose Bowls and 2006's Football Armageddon, during which Troy Smith torched Morgan Trent. Troy Smith got a wrist-slap for taking 500 bucks, but given what we know now it seems improbable that was all he did. If he was in the supplemental draft, Michigan plays for a national title with Jake Long and a bizarre dominance of Florida instead of still-drunk-from-last-night Alex Boone and a paralyzing fear of the SEC.

However, while Carr's career might have been truly legendary without Cheatypants Sweatervest and Pete Carroll tag-teaming the NCAA rule book, the degradation at the tail end of his career wouldn't have changed. No one did The Horror to Michigan except Michigan; no one else lost that bumper crop of instate talent and left the program with six offensive linemen and only one primadonna itching to leave between Michigan and total quarterback implosion; no one else provided Michigan zero plausible in-house options in a program that evidently needed one.

HOWEVA HOWEVA, a hypothetical win in one of those Rose Bowls or Football Armageddon might have avoided that fate because it would have caused Carr to retire earlier, avoiding a good chunk of the nastiness comprising the last four years. Sans cheating, Carr probably has two or three more wins that swing public opinion of him from solid B+ to Bo 2.0.

Hey Brian,

I was having a facebook conversation with a guy I played football with in high school. He played at a moderately successful IA school from a non-BCS conference, and made the comment that "this goes on at every big-time school." It's important to note that he is NOT any kind of an OSU fan, and that when he said "big-time" it was to note that it didn't happen at his school. Now if "this" means the ebay and the tattoos, I don't really care too much. But if "this" refers to raiding the equipment room and the improper benefits, than I'd like to step off my high horse.

I know he's not really in a position to know, and I know neither are you - but please speculate for me. When the Reggie Bush thing broke, everybody said "well that's how USC dominated." When the Cam Newton thing broke, it was "that's how the SEC dominates." Not it's Ohio, and people say the same thing. But at the same time - Rich Rodriguez did convince an awful lot of people from the south to come to Michigan. Most southerners I know bristle when they hear the word "Michigan" just because of the thought of cold. Maurice Clarett and Terrelle Pryor both took official visits to Michigan. Am I just being paranoid when I get nervous about Brady Hoke kicking butt at recruiting?

I say that we just had NCAA investigators pore over our program, brick by brick. I say that similar scandals to the tattoo scandal broke with AJ Green and at UNC without it implicating the institutions as a whole. But I can't help but be a little nervous - do we have anything to worry about? Do all the "big boys" do this kind of thing?

I think the eBay thing in general has started talk about reforming college sports scholarships and restrictions on activities. But if the shadier parts, of agents and boosters, is widespread - if all the major programs have their own Ed Martin - then can college sports as we know it continue to exist as we pretend it does?

Sorry for the long email - please tell me there are no monsters under the bed.


I can't flat out say "there are no monsters under the bed" after the Jihad. During that I repeatedly assured everyone that Michigan's compliance was Serious Business that would have all this stuff amply documented. Instead we got a lot of emails from Ann Vollano to Brad Labadie and zero in return. Things can break down; what we saw during the Jihad was a broken system that needed a revamp. It could have exposed Michigan to something serious if they had recruited a 6'6" sociopath instead of the world's nicest cheetah strapped to a jet engine and pushed out of a plane.

HOWEVA, in the aftermath a large number of people lost their jobs (or sought other opportunities or whatever other euphemism you would prefer—I like "succumbed to gumball addiction"). With Michigan on probation and Dave Brandon acting as new sheriff* things are on lockdown right now as they're ever going to be. When things are on lockdown the worst thing that happens is some kid does something wrong with some agent and gets suspended a la Marcus Ray or AJ Green. (I'm not so sure UNC is going to get off with just their suspensions, FWIW. Wasn't John Blake in some serious dirt?)

As to your larger point, no, I don't think This Happens Everywhere. That Texas walk-on's story demonstrates there are places that are serious about compliance. Here's beloved MGoStoryteller CRex with a local example:

As someone who once helped a football player fix his car, Michigan compliance was so far up my ass there was a blue lot in my lower colon and I almost got my own blue bus stop.  The player bought the tie rods and I did the labor since I knew how and had the tools.  He paid me for my time in beer and pizza.  Compliance jumped all over this and figured out the hourly rate for a mechanic was greater than the cost of the beer and pizza, thus he still owed me money.  I attempted to lowball my time estimate for doing the job, they talked to a real mechanic and got the official time estimate for tie rod replacement.  They were also unimpressed by the fact I helped all my friends fix their cars in exchange for beer and pizza.  So they basically stood over him while he wrote me a check for what they demanded the difference was. They also made him pay my uncle who let us use the lift in his garage. 

I tossed the check aside and figured "I might cash this if he gets drafted, maybe".  Someone though noticed the money never came out of his account and started calling me about cashing the damn check.  This was old school Carr era though.

The next time I worked on his car I sarcastically sent them an invoice (six page writeup for helping him replace two brake pads) "for their records", they crosschecked all my time estimates and sent me back an approval letter and a genuine thank you for the paper...

While it's impossible to prevent local restaurants from giving players extra chicken wings or free cover, there is a level of shadiness that can be effectively regulated. A debate about whether amateurism is ethical is outside the scope of my brain right now because I'm so happy I'm not wearing pants.

*[While it's obvious I'm ambivalent about Brandon these days what with the whole creeping advertisements, night game uniformz, and failure to put Special K's head on a pike two minutes after taking the job, the way he handled the NCAA investigation both during and after is a huge, huge positive. Our athletic director may suffer a curly fries mascot in Michigan Stadium and refer to the department as "I" but…


…it could be so much worse.

Also, video replay in Yost.]

How does Tresselgate (and rumors of systemic NCAA violations) compare to the Fab Five fiasco in terms of sheer magnitude, and in terms of discredit they bring to the university in question?

-- bjk.

They're pretty similar. In both you have guys taking extra benefits from guys who may or may not technically be boosters, and in both the violations stretch over some years with multiple players. (With way fewer players on scholarship, four basketball players is approximately equal to the 28 Buckeyes SI say are trading stuff for tats.)

The major differences:

  1. Tressel lied to the NCAA multiple times; Fisher didn't.
  2. Michigan fired Fisher immediately and without regret, then went into their Day Of Great Shame routine. Ohio State tried to convince everyone this was worthy of a two game suspension.
  3. Ohio State had plenty of warning in the public eye from the Clarett accusations and the Smith handshake. Michigan had never brushed up against similar allegations.

I'm guessing Tatgate will be worse from an NCAA standpoint. In the end, Michigan got one year of postseason ban and a one scholarship penalty for four years. If Ohio State gets off with the equivalent they'll be skipping and everyone will be outraged. From a program standpoint, it won't be as bad because Ohio State isn't going to hire Brian Ellerbe. From a shame standpoint, probably worse since at least Michigan didn't go around pretending everything was cool.



June 2nd, 2011 at 12:19 PM ^

Comparing corporately, It's like AT&T (U Mich) versus WorldCom (OSU). Stay with me, 'cause it's valid (and unlike 11W, I know Mich Men have an attention span longer than 3 lines)

Back in the day WorldCom had amazing cash flow and AT&T shareholders were yelling at their CEO, C. Michael Armstrong, saying "WTF are you doing? AT&T was the dominant telco for over 100 years! We are losing to the new guy at WorldCom Get out, out out out!!!!"

Lo' and behold, it was discovered that AT&T was playing by the books and WorldCom was cheating every which way to Sunday in order to beat AT&T at the numbers. The AT&T CEO got the boot because of comparing his time at AT&T to a bunch of frauds at WorldCom. 

No, I never worked at AT&T, but AT&T has the iPhone now and WorldCom is chopped in to pieces.


Sparkle Motion

June 2nd, 2011 at 1:28 PM ^

that was an under-reported aspect of the Worldcom and Enron scandals - all of the decisions made, financial and personnel wise, by their competitors trying to match their "returns."  Money was thrown and ridiculous strategies, competent executives were fired.  I was logging in to make the same point - thank you for saving me time

Picktown GoBlue

June 5th, 2011 at 12:51 AM ^

The AT&T Corp that was fighting the long distance wars with WorldCom you cite above shrunk to such irrelevancy that it got purchased by its baby.  What you now see as a company called AT&T is in actuality SBC, which took over the name of AT&T after buying them.  That's why you'll find headquarters in Dallas, not New York City or New Jersey.  Further, my first mobile phone was with AT&T when the long distance carrier first ventured into mobile phone service.  It didn't work for them, so my service ended up going to AirTouch, which was eventually cobbled together with other entities from GTE and Bell Atlantic to make Verizon Wireless, who also now has the iPhone.  AT&T Corp had to buy McCaw Cellular for $11.1B to get wireless going, which was later spun off but then scooped up by SBC's wireless arm, Cingular, the same time SBC bought AT&T (and then renamed it back to AT&T Wireless).

And about that old AT&T company, before it was finally Borg'd by SBC, it, too, was chopped into pieces - many that have also had their share of controversies and further choppings: NCR, Lucent (merged into Alcatel-Lucent), Avaya, Agere (merged into LSI Internation), AT&T Broadband (merged into Comcast), and Liberty Media.

What used to have 10's or 100's of billions of dollars of market cap is a measly fraction of it, some due to market pressures and some due to fraudulent activities of its own.

So probably not the best of analogies...We don't want to end up with U of M-Flint taking over U of M, do we??


June 2nd, 2011 at 12:20 PM ^

i love this picture of gee with that steely confident look on his face.  if only because his bowtie is too big for his face.


June 2nd, 2011 at 12:23 PM ^

I suppose that last section from Brian begs the question as to what sort of penalties that school down south might get from the NCAA.

I hate the typical NCAA penalties of postseason bans and reduced scholarships, because it tends to hurt most those who had nothing to do with the violations to begin with.  Then again, I don't know that there is much you can do to Maurice Clarett and Troy Smith beyond vacating wins and moving championship trophies etc. into storage.

On another note - anyone think that Fickle will eventually have the interim label removed and  be the next head coach? 


June 2nd, 2011 at 2:23 PM ^

From skimming the 11W comments it seems that they would like Fickle to remain as full-time head coach (provided he doesn't fall on his face).  It would provide them with some stability and not have to go looking for a head coach with sanctions hanging over their head.


On the other hand, rational fan bases/administration would probably want to distance themselves as far from the cheating.   


June 2nd, 2011 at 12:24 PM ^

...I'd given up hope that Brian actually read the MGoBoard anymore.

Holier than thou is an inherently dangerous way to live one's life. In this case, I'm willing to live on the edge.

There's no question in my mind that in the wake of practicegate, Michigan's Athletics Department is imbued with rigorous internal controls and processes and probably more importantly, real fear (from the AD on down).

Six Zero

June 2nd, 2011 at 12:36 PM ^

I think it's fair to imply that "IT" means the same levels of accountability and transparency that were in place during the Carr era.  Say what you want about the old-timer, but no one from Musberger to Speilman would ever imply that Lloyd would sacrifice his own ideals, and that of, well, Bo, to bring in another element of talent into the program.  Add to that the undeniable truth that we went through it once and that no one, on any level, wants that sort of shame to fall either institutionally, professionally or personally... I feel like compliance will be handled adequately in the Hoke era.


June 2nd, 2011 at 12:25 PM ^

vs. OSU in 2005, no one called for a punt on 4th and 4 from the 35 except Michigan. Never forget that. Heh, remember when 7-5 was "infinite pain?"


June 2nd, 2011 at 1:53 PM ^

You think every other coach would have gone for it there?  Some would, but certainly not all.  OSU had a great defense and we had struggled to move the ball most of the day.  I'm not sure how great our chances were of converting a 4th and 4 on them.


June 2nd, 2011 at 2:13 PM ^

Yeah, but what does punting from the 34 gain you?  Maybe a it takes a couple more plays to score against our defense that had already wilted late in the 4th quarter multiple times that season (and on the previous drive), and that's assuming it wasn't so obvious that OSU even had return men back to keep us from pinning them deep.  Converting on 4th down wins the game.


June 3rd, 2011 at 11:18 PM ^

And I would have gone for it there.  But Carr was hardly the only coach who would have punted there.  

What's disappointing in the whole thing is that the possibility of a 51-yard field goal had to be completely dismissed.  It's been too long since we've had a kicker with that kind of range.


June 2nd, 2011 at 12:33 PM ^

If we cannot rid ourselves of Special K, can we convince Dave Brandon to crowdsource Special K's playlist?  I'm pretty sure the MGoCommunity alone could come up with the "Should Play" and "Burn It With Fire" playlists for the booth, starting with at least once a game, during the third quarter, the old Michigan Replay Theme should be played for no good reason other than it should be played.

MI Expat NY

June 2nd, 2011 at 12:42 PM ^

I think it's time we stopped uisng the "we were investigated by the NCAA, they took apart our program brick by brick" defense.  The investigation into extra practice time was most likely limited to cover just that subject.  If anything, the fact that the NCAA has apparently ended investigations into OSU twice (once after the tattoos story broke and once after the Tressel angle broke) without turning up all the other stuff that journalists have found demonstrates that a specific NCAA investigation does NOT look into every aspect of the program under investigation.  

Does this mean that the same stuff has happened here?  Absolutely not.  But the better reason why not are antecdotes like CRex's story, not the fact that we were investigated and nothing like this turned up.


June 2nd, 2011 at 12:48 PM ^

I have to agree here.  I'm sure the NCAA looked into some ancillary bookkeeping by compliance, but it would have been beyond the scope of their investigation (and their resources) to make sure UM was keeping an eye on the type of infractions we saw with USC/OSU/other "big time" programs intimated by the first e-mail.

I doubt that you'll ever see the type of abuses at the other schools at UM - even the Fab 5 was more limited and the response was much more professional - but yeah, I doubt the Jihad's subsequent inquiries stretched much beyond the practice timing issues.

Todd Plate's n…

June 2nd, 2011 at 12:56 PM ^

Honest question, how far did the NCAA have to dig regarding the charge that RR did not "promote an atmosphere of compliance"?  Vague charge, but I would imagine it took the investigation a few steps beyond just checking the practice time charge, with zero red flags raised regarding the charge against RR.  thoughts?




June 2nd, 2011 at 1:07 PM ^

I lean toward agreement here, because I think that we occasionally equate an NCAA investigation with the powers of a federally appointed special prosecutor.  As I remember (and please feel free to correct me) When a special prosecutor is appointed to invesitigate a particular transgression, they have broad statuatory powers to go in whatever direction the evidence leads them.  In the NCAA's case, while they ask for a large number of documents related to compliance, the focus is generally on the particular area in which they are investigating.  So unless they uncover a massive sinkhole of violations on the trail, it's likely they would get what they need and move on.


June 2nd, 2011 at 12:47 PM ^

Two issues with your excellent answers:

1) Mallett certainly was/is a prima donna. But there's scant evidence that he was planning to transfer under Carr. It's pretty well established that the kid transferred because of RR's system. And he was wise to do so.

2) The OSU scandal, as it now stands, is bad. But I'm not sure it equals the Fab Five Scandal, in which players were actually getting paid -- a lot -- by a booster well known to the university. Fisher, if he didn't know about it, should have known. He and his bosses were AWOL. And all that money gave M a significant competitive edge, because the money helped lure the players; without the money, CWebb et al may well have played elsewhere. Did OSU get much of a competitive edge re Tattgate? Maybe in some small, vague way, because recruits may have been attracted by the overall air of permissiveness. But it's not as if those players were bought. 


June 2nd, 2011 at 12:52 PM ^

i don't think there's evidence for the statement that the money lured webber to ann arbor.  certainly he was on the take while enrolled, but i can't recall evidence implying that he was induced to go to michigan by money.


June 2nd, 2011 at 1:58 PM ^

The Webber family had a relationship with Ed Martin going back to when Chris was in middle school.  However, Martin then had no connection to U-M.  He did not associate himself with the program until after Webber enrolled.  The NCAA officially declared him a booster at the 1992 Final Four.


June 2nd, 2011 at 12:52 PM ^

With #2, it was my understanding (and I may be far off) that guys like Webber and Howard were clear UM leans and that most of the real abuse you saw with Martin and Fisher occurred once they were on campus.  Both Rose and Webber were local kids who had a strong proclivity to come to UM, and so the money probably wasn't a driving force.  That might have been the case with OSU as well, but I don't think the money from Martin was what brought those guys to UM, inasmuch as it was a nice perk once they arrived.  We've seen superteams like the Fab 5 before (UNLV Running Rebels, that Kentucky team under Pitino with Walker and Mecer, etc.), and so it doesn't surprise me that every once and a while kids just want to play with other really good players without money explicitly entering as a factor.


June 3rd, 2011 at 4:24 PM ^

I remember there being suspicion that Mallet was going to transfer anyways, before RR was hired. Obviously the RR hire really wasn't a great way to intice him to stay, but I remember it was quite obvious he didn't get along with several players on the team, and if I recall correctly Manningham was going to leave early (mainly because he was really good) but also because Henne was graduating and he didn't like Mallet.

On two, as others have said, they probably weren't paid to come to UofM. Also, we don't really know the full extent of the situation at TSIO, so it could potentially be far worse than the Fab 5 incident.


June 2nd, 2011 at 12:46 PM ^

HOWEVA, in the aftermath a large number of people lost their jobs (or sought other opportunities or whatever other euphemism you would prefer—I like "succumbed to gumball addiction").

Rothstein coincidentally has an article out today on the above topic:

Six-plus months after the University of Michigan finished dealing with an NCAA investigation into its football program, six of the seven employees who received letters of reprimand are no longer with the university.

Ann Vollano is the one who remains at Michigan. Rothstein has a rundown of all seven that indicates where they are now--except for Alex Herron, whose "current whereabouts are unknown."


June 2nd, 2011 at 12:59 PM ^

Interesting take by Brian about how Carr's era would have been viewed differently in light of the USC/OSU games.  I think UM still would have lost to USC in 2006 regardless of Reggie Bush playing, and while Smith in 2005 might have been a different game, that 2006 OSU team is one of the best non-BCS champions in the past 10-15 years and Florida was scary-good as well.  Sure, some of those guys might have been ruled ineligible, but I still don't think that game would have been different unless Carr changed his coaching philosophy significantly.  Maybe UM pulls out that win and plays Florida for the title, but I still think the long layoff + good competition in the form of Florida would have still resulted in a loss.

All that said, one or two wins would have moved Carr up (in most eyes) to just below Bo and Yost as an untouchable, while with those losses I'm not sure there isn't a chance he is surpassed by another coach as the years go by and people forget about the late 90's and early 00's.


June 2nd, 2011 at 1:36 PM ^

I've blocked most of the game out of my mind, but 2 of OSU's touchdowns were on long plays. one, the RB broke a long one when one of our LBs hit a ref and then that one play action of 4th and 1. I still think if a few plays had gone different, we would've won in the same squeek-it-out fashion.

or....if there hadn't been a terrible late hit too


June 2nd, 2011 at 1:43 PM ^

I don't disagree that 2006 might have played out differently against OSU, but that Florida team was very good and both OSU adn UM looked spent in their bowl games.  My sense is that unless USC was just a horrible matchup for UM (and that may have been the case, I'm not sure), the problems we saw against the Trojans would have reared their ugle heads against the Gators as well.  But definitely the OSU game might have been different without Smith out there.


June 2nd, 2011 at 2:12 PM ^

I've blocked most of that game out as well.  The main things I remember are the moment of silence for Bo, us flying down the field and scoring a TD on our first drive and OSU converting pretty much every 3rd and very long at will.  

That game started the tradition of our opponents turning 3rd and 17's into effortless 30, 40, sometimes 50 yard gains which became the norm under RichRod.


June 3rd, 2011 at 4:32 PM ^

I was watching that game on the Big Ten network a couple of weeks ago, and I forgot how outcoached our assistants were compared to TSIOs assistants. Watching that offense struggle, and our defense having no way to counter TSIO when they marched four and five receiver sets out there. So much of the offense was completely predicable or completely unimaginative. If we didn't have Hart running behind Long and Kraus on the left, I don't think we would have come back in that game. Makes me wonder how good we would have been if Carr hired more talented assistants later in his career.


June 2nd, 2011 at 1:01 PM ^

OSU. SC was the place to play during the Carroll era, with a huge combination of Hollywood hipness, sun, and have you seen the cheerleaders? It's so attractive that in the wake of a huge NCAA slapdown SC STILL drew the #4 class in the country last year. OSU has a big advantage with the Ohio talent base, and Tressel, despite cheating, was a damn good coach. Let's please resist the temptation to all say "late Carr didn't happen," it is way too easy for a group of uber M fans to do so. The late Carr era did show a decline, recruiting did show another slight decline, and nothing, nothing, about another program would have changed the last three years.


June 2nd, 2011 at 3:09 PM ^

From 1990-2001?  Back when people were saying "no one wants to go play so close to such bad neighborhoods", and Washington and Oregon were the best teams in the conference? It's great to say it was all due to Carroll's vibe, but a big part of that vibe at USC was $$$, and the place didn't recruit itself for a decade before he got there.


June 2nd, 2011 at 5:35 PM ^

I remember that time period very well.  USC was the laughing stock of college football in the 90's.  The most common nickname for them was SC Community College in the media.

I stopped hating them because they were so awful. 

Carrol comes in, throw some $$$ here and there and everywhere, boom!  Before you can blink, they're a top 5 progam. 


June 2nd, 2011 at 6:33 PM ^

Sure they were mediocre--bad, during that period. But they also had terrible coaches or bad coaching fits (we know how those periods go, don't we?). But SC, as you both know, has a glorious tradition from the 60's and 70's, every bit as good if not better than Michigan's. They were ready to bounce with a good coach, and they did. They were helped by the lack of pro ball, and thus more media attention, and good recruiting/coaching. "Throwing money around" is glib, and has one great example of it named Bush. But not enough. Pete Carroll was 11-2 in his second year at SC. Pretty tough to start throwing money at recruits and getting results that quickly, wouldn't you agree? Throwing money no more led to their success than throwing money led to our success in basketball with the Fab Five. Until people start proving that money was given to these athletes to come to school, vs. money being given to them because people treated then as wonderful after they were enrolled, the "SC/OSU victories didn't happen" school is missing something. Facts.