Old Blue: the New Crimson

Submitted by MCalibur on May 28th, 2010 at 11:36 AM

[ed: bumped despite deployment of worst photo of yrs truly ever.]

“…if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” –Nietzsche

Son of a bitch. It’s happening. Quit lookin’ at me, abyss.

In 1960 JFK referred to himself as “…a graduate of the Michigan of the East, Harvard University.” I’ve always thought of that as a high compliment towards Michigan. Now, however, I also recognize the glint of the hex that was unwittingly cast upon us on that day. Upon uttering those words, the 35th P.O.T.U.S not only saluted the University of Michigan’s academic excellence, but he also set our crown jewel onto a collision course with gridiron suckitude. Allow me to explain.

I recently came across an article from 1949 in The Harvard Crimson. The article is over 3000 words long, but the first shiver slithered up my spine before I had even reached the byline: “Alumni, Doing Nothing, Scream for Blood After Worst Season Ever.” By the time I had finished reading the article—A Clockwork Orange style—my spine was a full blown electric eel in the throes of a nervous breakdown.

It’s hard to resist full verse recitation of the whole article but, here some highlights:

  • There are references to Harvard’s recruiting footprint and the need for MOAR ESS-EEE-CEE HAWA-EEE-EEE SPEED!
  • The authors bitch about being charged “$4.20 or even $3.60 to see Harvard play an obviously poor football opponent.” Oh, the humanity! It’s weird though because throughout the article they vacillate their complaints between playing cannon fodder and actually being cannon fodder.
  • There are reports of familiar alumni complaints a la, “Hurr, hurr…get off my lawn with that new fangled, Crisler-style, single-wing offense and two-platoon system; you…you Michigander, you. Gimme back my Power T.”

And two choice excerpts from the article

“[Current coach] ought to adapt his system to fit his players, the way ‘good old [retired coach] used to do.’ "

But the crucial concern right now is that no attempt to change the situation involve the firing of [Current coach], who may not be the genius he was hailed as last year but who is certainly doing his best--and a definitely competent best--with what material he has.

Go ahead and do whatever it takes to rid yourself of those heebie-jeebies; I’ll wait. Seriously, it’s like Brian himself had been warped to 1949 via the way back machine to write that article. It’s impossibly eerie; much like this ancient statue of Michael Jackson an anonymous Egyptian woman and this authentic picture of Brian some bespectacled dude with long hair in a block M tee shirt.

Ancient Eerie

[ed: more disturbing parallels between Harvard circa 1950 and present-day M after the jump.]

As interesting as all of that is, there are bits in regards to recruiting that I find the most fascinating. There are direct shots taken regarding players being “…bought up and sent to the big Southern schools.” Back then being bought up consisted of being given an athletic scholarship or attending a training table in addition to things we modern heathens would recognize as inappropriate. How ironic that the ESS EEE CEE basically invented the athletic scholarship without ever encouraging the scholarship of its athletes.

Twenty years before the Crimson article, the Carnegie Foundation wrapped up a huge 3.5 year investigation costing approximately one hundred thousand dollars a lot of money that yielded Bulletin no. 23 a 347 page report called American Collegiate Athletics which, amongst a lot of other things, found that over 78% of athletic programs were engaged in unsavory activities of some kind. Michigan was very likely to have been one of them as evidenced by the Kipke ordeal. Hey, you know that Gerald Ford guy? He was “on the take”, too; he was guaranteed a job by Kipke which was a frowned upon recruiting tactic as was the very act of recruiting. But everyone was doing it so, what’s the big deal? Amiright? Anyway, the Carnegie Report was front page news when it broke, but the stock market collapse that turned into the Great Depression was headline news and the report faded into obscurity. And good thing too, if the economy hadn’t sucked, college football might have. Maybe Gordon Gecko was right—greed is good.

The Carnegie Report captures a prevalent definition and view of recruiting of the time: “procurement of [athletes] with the purpose of increasing an institution's prestige in athletics. Invariably … recruiting on this basis acquires a sinister aspect…” The article in the Crimson falls over itself in agreement with this premise. Some of the comments are similar to those that we hear associated with modern recruiting at Michigan:

… football players should never be allowed to come here unless they can pass entrance exams in equal competition with their less agile contemporaries.


After all, Harvard should not need athletic scholarships to entice men to Cambridge. The University not only offers an A.B. degree of unmatched prestige value, but also has as good a range of courses as any other college, better taught than in almost any other college.

How many times have we heard those exact same sentiments in regard to Michigan?

What do the Crimson authors propose as a solution to the ills that ailed the collegiate landscape? Boosters, rent control, and guaranteed employment. Welcome to polar opposite land.

A few years later, a committee of the American Council of Education, headed by the president of Michigan State University, proposed reforms to collegiate athletics in 1952 that would have forbidden athletic subsidy, offseason practice, and post-season competition. No scholarships, no spring football, no bowl games. Great ideas, Sparty. Even back then, Sparty wasn’t doing its own homework because the proposals were largely those of the Ivy Group Agreement of 1945 which was written specifically in regards to football. In 1956 the Ivy League was officially formed extending the agreement to all varsity sports. To this day the Ivy League forbids offseason practice and participation in post season football games. However, they participate in March Madness so, they’re hypocrites. But we already knew that.


Around that time Michigan also took measures to clean up its act. Makes you wonder about the root cause of the struggles of the 50’s and 60’s, doesn’t it? Illinois and Iowa both got popped in that timeframe for slush-fund  or recruiting type violations.

Now, Harvard and its Ivy League brethren chose their fate. They collectively surveyed the landscape of collegiate athletics, got nauseous, and took concrete action to leave Gomorrah. They didn’t do it half-assed by saying “we’re going to win the Hahvahd way” they said “screw you guys, I’m going home.” Frankly, I respect the fact that they had the gumption to do it. So did the University of Chicago.

Three generations later, many are saying the exact same things in regards to how recruits “should be honored to receive an offer from Meechigan” and  how “Meechigan doesn’t need to stoop to get recruits like Demar Dorsey.” Meanwhile, people with Michigan lineages spanning generations seemingly have no clue of the Program’s history of setting the standard for what should and shouldn’t be permissible in the spirit of fair competition.

Now we’re being scolded about how ashamed we should all be that Michigan’s un-pristine record of integrity has been tarnished due to having exceeded the 20 hour weekly limit on 1 occasion by 20 minutes. [Most of the 65 hour overage occurred during off season conditioning or daily limits. Michigan only ran 20-minutes worth of extra drills in practice. If you over-prepare for one game by 20 minutes, you reeeally suck at cheating.] This is akin to Johnny Smartypants being suicidal about getting a 99.9% on an exam instead of his customary 100%. It’s still an A+ John; go to college.

RR_SnakeOil I’ll close with a proposal: let’s be the anti-Harvard. Until the 70’s, athletic scholarships were granted on a four-year basis. The practice was discontinued because of athletic department budgetary grievances. In an era where athletic scholarships are not four-year commitments, lets make it happen.

“Hey, desired recruit, we’re so sure that you will be a productive member of the Michigan family that we are willing to commit to you for at least four years if you’re willing to do the same. All you have to do is stay in good academic standing and adhere to our code of conduct. If you ever want to transfer, you’re free to do so. The NCAA doesn’t obligate us to commit to you for longer than one academic year, but this is how we operate.

Did I mention our helmet’s got wings?” 

Then again, I’m sure the NCAA would object because such a practice wouldn’t be in the student athlete’s best interest.