Teddy Greenstein Went to Medill Comment Count

BiSB January 22nd, 2016 at 4:30 PM
via NYT
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. 


The Maizer

January 22nd, 2016 at 4:35 PM ^


If you get a questionable performance review at work, that doesn’t get published in the company newsletter.

Great point. This would be funny and useful, though.


January 22nd, 2016 at 4:40 PM ^

Personally, I'd like every publication that reruns the Greenstein article to run the Spath article as well.  Just put them up, one after the other, without commentary.


January 22nd, 2016 at 5:00 PM ^

Swen Swenson is a fantasic name.  It would make for a truly horrific monogram.

This whole thing fills me with sadness.  On the one hand, when I got admitted to college (not UM -- a place with warmer winters :-), my acceptance letter said that they reserved the right to rescind my admission if my senior year grades were not up to par.  On the other hand, my expectations for Michigan include putting character before championships (whilst still pursuing the latter).  If Michigan offers someone a scholarship, I expect that either (a) they will honor that commitment or (b) they have made the conditions -- e.g., don't quit athletics and gain 150 pounds of fat during your senior year -- clear at the time the scholarship is offered, the same way the conditions upon my acceptance were made clear.  As far as I'm concerned, even the next day is too late; fall of his senior year, for a commitment offered during his junior year, is definitely too late.

I don't care what other schools do.  I don't care if this is acceptable in the SEC.  I chose to follow Michigan because Michigan is supposed to be above the fray.  I expect more from the coach who -- according to Endzone, anyway -- was disappointed that Michigan didn't require as much from its athletes as Stanford, because of course it should, because Michigan.  I expect that when a Michigan Man gives his word, that word is his bond.

PS: There are way too many people interested in cost-control* for this ever to happen, but the real answer here is to eliminate scholarship restrictions.  Then, you would never have to accuse coaches of pushing out one recruit to land another, because the schools that could afford it would just accept both and let competition win out.  (The downside, such as it is, would be additional playing-time transfers, but there'd be more confidence that playing time was the actual reason).

* Where 'cost-control' means 'ensure that the money from insanely profitable college sports go to coach and staff salaries -- and the building of more and more elaborate edifices of sport -- in order to ensure that the team looks like a non-profit or, better yet, seems to operate at a loss.'


January 22nd, 2016 at 5:13 PM ^

"PS: There are way too many people interested in cost-control* for this ever to happen, but the real answer here is to eliminate scholarship restrictions.  Then, you would never have to accuse coaches of pushing out one recruit to land another, because the schools that could afford it would just accept both and let competition win out.  (The downside, such as it is, would be additional playing-time transfers, but there'd be more confidence that playing time was the actual reason)."


you do realize that this used to be the case, right?  you used to be able to offer as many scholarships as you wanted.  the byproduct is there would be the same 10 schools in the top 10 every year.  remember when it was the big 2 and the little 8 that made of the big ten?  that was due to having many more scholarships to give out.  the reason the NCAA won't go back to that has nothing to do with cost-cutting measures.  it has to do with parity.


January 22nd, 2016 at 5:22 PM ^

This is another concern, but all that really does is raise the cost of the scholarship.  Alabama -- or Michigan -- could certainly afford to fund 130 women's rowing scholarships if it meant that they could fund 130 football scholarhips.  It would simply be part of the cost of doing business.


January 22nd, 2016 at 5:20 PM ^

Of course I realize that, but the landscape of college football is entirely different than it was in the 1960s and 1970s.  With nearly every single game on national television, and with the incredible amount of information at recruits' fingertips, it's a lot easier for a non-traditional power school to recruit against the "big boys" than it was when there was a single game on TV weekly and you only ever heard about the power programs.

The NCAA cites parity -- and that may even have been the reason when the decision was made -- but, make no mistake, the real reason for scholarship limits is to reduce costs.  It's classic cartel behavior.

snarling wolverine

January 22nd, 2016 at 5:26 PM ^

No, it's Title IX. Those football scholarships have to somehow be balanced by women's scholarships, and it's easier to do that if there aren't as many of them. Same reason why men's basketball has 13 scholarships and women's basketball has 15.


January 22nd, 2016 at 6:02 PM ^

Sure, I can agree with this, with my original caveat that the recruit needs to have been advised of the conditions of his offer at the time it was provided.  "Come to an evaluation camp" may be a reasonable request -- although, remember, he's out of state, and we don't know what other schedule commitments he might have had -- but only if the recruit knows it at the time he accepts his scholarship.*

There's another pretty easy solution to all of this; John Beilein's approach of not giving out scholarship offers until a given date (June 15th before the junior year, I think?).  If you don't want to get locked into a bad situation, don't make the kid an offer.  Jim Harbaugh could announce "Michigan now has a policy of giving scholarship offers no earlier than Oct. 1 of the senior year."  He'd miss out on a few candidates, but most kids would wait to see if they were going to get a Michigan offer before accepting one from a different school.

Still, absence the violation of an agreed-upon criterion in the scholarship offer, the school should never take it back once an offer is made.

* To be fair to Coach Harbaugh, it seems likely that recruits committing initially to him are getting a different set of up-front messages than Hoke's kids were.  But the kids commit to the school, not the coach.

snarling wolverine

January 22nd, 2016 at 6:31 PM ^

The problem with this reasoning is that coaches nowadays are under a lot of pressure to get recruiting right. One bad class alone can screw you over. We just fired our last two coaches, after tenures of three and four years, respectively. When you're Harbaugh and you're replacing an underperforming coach whose talent evaluation was a bit iffy - especially on the OL - it behooves you to observe the Hoke-committed kids with some scrutiny. When one of those kids decides coming to camp isn't his top priority, that's raising a red flag. And then when he goes on to have (by numerous accounts) a disappointing senior season, is it really worth it to uphold a promise that the previous coach made to him?

I think Brady Hoke is a pretty honorable guy. But he also got his ass kicked by OSU and MSU. In this reality you've got to assemble as good a roster as you can, as soon as possible. I don't think we'll see Harbaugh go the full SEC route and oversign by a ton, or medical a bunch of guys, or kick his own freshmen out of the dorms to grayshirt. I think this is about as far as he'll go into the gray area and it's frankly not that bothersome to me. Swenson got the message before it was too late to go elsewhere, and he's got other Big Ten offers.


January 22nd, 2016 at 7:44 PM ^

Ive called it the brian cook plan for awhile.
Im too lazy and mostly, nowhere near internet savvy enough to find the post, bc ive been looking for an hour. But dear leader had a post within the last year that i havent seen mentioned and was disappointed not to hear brian throw out again on the wtka discussion.
Basically each school gets 25 golden tickets for each class. Guaranteed 4 year scholarships. The kid sends it in and hes locked in. No more 85 limit, no more pushing kids out. Redshirts still exist and would be encouraged. No more visits and other schools no longer can call you. Grad transfers still exist. Were the rules if i remember correctly.
Edit: its always committable (thats probably not a word except in crootin) if you offer in 8th grade and david sills signs, thats your problem usc. Pay the man for his education.
There may have also been an out if a school changes hc or coord on your side of the ball if i remember correctly.

snarling wolverine

January 23rd, 2016 at 10:39 AM ^

The 85-man limit is for Title IX purposes.  That's not going to go away.  That pretty much causes the rest of his proposal to unravel.

Making commitments legally binding from middle school on . . . eh, I don't know we want to go down that road either.  You'd have cases of kids changing their minds and schools not wanting to release them because they're already locked in.  I think that would be a mess.  I would be in favor of an early signing period, but not before 12th grade.


January 22nd, 2016 at 6:07 PM ^

This is a strange part of the story for me as well.  Maybe the Swenson family had a trip to Sweden scheduled that conflicted with the camp.  Or maybe he was out of shape and didn't want to show poorly.  Who knows but I suspect that Michigan couldn't force him to show up or retaliate if he didn't.  But it is incredible to me that the kid didn't want to show the coaches his skills and competitiveness.  He was on notice that they wanted to evaluate him up close and personal and he said "I'm not giving you that chance".  Whoever came up with that plan made a big mistake.


January 26th, 2016 at 8:40 AM ^

is that this kid wasn't offered by Harbaugh in the first place. They were still going to honor the scholarship, but gave Swenson specific goals he needed to achieve to keep the offer. They also gave him ample time to earn that offer. Competition is the core of Harbaugh's coaching philosophy, and they let Swenson compete for a spot in this class. I think that Harbaugh and the staff were very fair to him, and that he just didn't grasp how important it was to make gains during his last season. This is just another example of zero tolerance for any sort of sense of entitlement.


January 22nd, 2016 at 5:38 PM ^

It's amazing how much hate Michigan inspires in people......totally disproportionate to what any reasonable person would expect. People seem to actively be trying to bring us down despite much more deserving targets. It's almost like every Michigan alum, at one point or another, stole the GF/BF of someone else in this country and now they all collectively hate us. 

Tells me we must be doing something right, though.