Unanswered Questions

Submitted by metsgoblue on August 30th, 2009 at 10:44 AM
Hello MGoBlog world. Not a pleasant time for my first post, but it is what it is.
In my mind, the Freep article left a host of important questions unanswered in its attempt to brand the Michigan football program NCAA rule-breakers.

1.    Most obviously, who are these guys? The phrase "current or former" players is vague. How many are currently on the roster? How many left the program early? How many graduated? How many lost playing time under Rodriguez? How many were Carr recruits? All these questions could have been answered without compromising the anonymity of the sources. Why weren't they?
2.    Speaking of anonymity, why were the former players allowed the opportunity to speak without attribution? The Freep offered this justification for granting anonymity: “The players and parents agreed to talk only if they were not identified because they said they feared repercussions from the coaching staff.” How does this apply to former players? Were they worried Mike Barwis would come to their houses and pull some MMA moves on them? I used to work for a media watch non-profit, and they liked to call these “spinonymous sources” – individuals granted anonymity on dubious grounds with an obvious interest in pushing one side of the story. A disgruntled transfer who has already cut all ties with Michigan would certainly fit in that category.
3. How many programs have off-season conditioning programs that, if required, would wildly violate the NCAA hour limits? How many of these programs strongly encourage their players to attend, so they can get bigger and stronger and compete for playing time? Would this quote apply to all of them? “‘It was mandatory,’ one player said. ‘They’d tell you it wasn’t, but it really was.’"
4. Why are the quotes from freshmen Je’Ron Stokes and Brandin Hawthorne in the story? Were they misled as to the nature of the story? Did their quotes add anything to the story’s contention that Michigan was requiring players, in violation of NCAA rules, to attend rigorous offseason workouts? With all the Freep’s concern for the anonymity of both current and former players, why would they put true freshmen in the uncomfortable situation of having their quotes used in a way they obviously never intended? The disclaimer that the players were “not complaining” does nothing to change the fact that these student-athletes are now forever publicly associated with a story eviscerating the program they just joined.




    August 30th, 2009 at 10:59 AM ^

    What if we assume just for a minute that our team did bend the rules. What would we as Michigan fans want to happen? Perhaps it's better to phrase that as, what do you want your university's response to be to those actions? Would breaking NCAA rules on mandatory activities be enough of an offense in your eyes that you would want a strong university response?

    I think the following are the types of self-regulating methods a university might take:

    1) Reduction of scholarships
    2) Loss of off-season practice hours
    3) Forfeiting of games

    I also had a conversation with a fellow grad who wanted Rodriguez gone after this latest set of accusations. I think firing seems to be extreme, but nonetheless I will admit that I'm embarrassed by these types of situations. I certainly don't feel the same sense of pride about my football team that I had during the Schembechler or Carr days.


    August 30th, 2009 at 11:17 AM ^

    Not too sound like I'm drinking too much of the kool-aid, but really? An accusation, is an accusation. You shouldn't make a final judgment before any facts are even released. We don't even know how the NCAA will handle this. It seems like the compliance director (Van Horn) doesn't see any issue with Michigan's off-season training.

    If it is an issue, how do we know this wasn't an issue in the Carr days? But your lack of the "same sense of pride" makes me think of something I noticed on ESPN. They mentioned something like "Michigan has never had a major NCAA Football violation."

    The fact is, this isn't a violation (or at least i hope it doesn't turn into it.) The media are looking for a story.


    August 30th, 2009 at 12:00 PM ^

    Well maybe I'm being irrational because I used to have the utmost confidence that the coach of my favorite football team would always make the right decision in terms of the student-athletes in his program. I don't have that same level of confidence thus far in the Rodriguez era. Whether that's fair or not I can't say. The transfers, the decommitments/turn-aways, the attacks on the program... it has a cumulative effect. I wish I wasn't so susceptible, but I'm just reacting honestly. I can say that I have paid much more attention to the events of the football team during these past several years as well so I can't comment on what happened during the Carr era. Hopefully you're right and this is all much-to-do over nothing.


    August 30th, 2009 at 1:49 PM ^

    "Well maybe I'm being irrational because I used to have the utmost confidence that the coach of my favorite football team would always make the right decision in terms of the student-athletes in his program. I don't have that same level of confidence thus far in the Rodriguez era."

    Not trying to be a dick or anything, but, uh, Carson Butler.


    August 30th, 2009 at 2:11 PM ^

    ... although I have no idea what you're referring to.

    What did Carr do that was unreasonable or abusive towards Carson Butler or his education? In fact, even after Butler's questionable Carr-era history, Rodriguez kept him on the team after he punched a Notre Dame player. I suppose on that point though I will remember how Rodriguez handled Feagin and temper my distress.


    August 30th, 2009 at 2:38 PM ^

    Actually, what I'm referring to is Carr allowing Butler to be on the team after all of his off the field problems. You were saying you don't feel the same about the current coach as you did about past coaches. In the case of Carson, Carr allowed him to stay on the team for three years versus RR's one. In this case, Carr dropped the ball.

    Let's also not forget the wonderful Eugene Germany, Arrington's GF, and Mario's little habit, that just about everyone on campus knew about. My point is that its absurd to think that somehow Rodriguez does not have the same values towards his players as Carr did. It makes Carr seem like a white knight and Rodriguez like some lowly serf.

    You're buying into what the Freep wants you to buy. That there is an inherently different and evil culture now at Michigan.


    August 30th, 2009 at 11:28 AM ^

    I would want a strong university response only if the program interferes with the students' academic progress.

    Unfortunately (or intentionally), the article failed (or refused) to report that the team's GPA last year was the highest it has been in over twenty years - and maybe ever - which includes the entire Moeller and Carr era. That seems like a very good thing to me - not a bad thing. I'm willing to support a coach like Rodriguez that delivers that sort of progress. It is possible that this kind of discipline (self-imposed or otherwise) actually spills over to other areas of the student's life?

    I think the walk-on program is the largest it has every been - another Rodriguez policy. Why would anyone put themselves through that kind of work if they didn't value their participation? These players are going through the same grind, despite the fact that they have little or no chance to play. Their actions speak loudly - very loudly.

    If the players are doing better in the classroom while preparing long and hard for the field, I have no problem with that - and the seven other members of my family who are also alums have no problem with it either. I'm sure we're going to find out that the vast majority of the players and their families support it, too. If and when we ever learn who the six "current or former" players are, we're likely to find another piece of the puzzle that was last season.

    The truth is that "mandatory" is a very fuzzy concept. Is it "mandatory" to study an extra few hours for a calc exam? Is it "mandatory" to go to your professor's office hours? Is it "mandatory" to get to work early tomorrow morning? Is it "mandatory" for your doctor to read that JAMA article this evening? Is it "mandatory" to go that extra mile to treat your customer well? No, these things aren't mandatory - but they are very, very good ideas.

    The kids in Rodriguez's program who learn these lessons about "mandatory" at this early age will be well-served in the future.


    August 30th, 2009 at 11:39 AM ^

    Hey Guys, this is bad news and I am an OSU fan that wants Michigan to get better - it is better for everyone. And, I believe RR will make you better. However, I think to try and discredit the report because the story fails to identify which players are still at Michigan and which have transferred or otherwise left, is grasping at straws, IMO.

    It seems as though there are enough current and former players quoted to warrant some sort of further investigation. I don't think you can simply chalk this up to disgruntled former players who want to grind an axe. Some of the responses here sound like Alabama fans whenever there are issues surrounding that program. I wouldn't pull the "everybody does it" card, because you are the leaders and the best, remember?

    Now, how big of a deal is this? On a scale of violations ranging from Kiffin (1) to Calipari (10), I'd say this is a 3. In other words, this conduct is not so egregious as to be a fireable offense, but worse than mere secondary recruiting violations where the use of a smoke machine was confirmed as a violation of one of the thousands of rules governing recruiting. If proven, this would be a blatant violation of clear rules and an obvious attempt to get a competitive advantage over all other teams in the conference. But, again, this is hardly the worst thing a coach has done.

    However, this speaks directly to how student-athletes are treated at Michigan and that is not going to sit well with the very large contingent of UM fans that is self-absorbed and obsessed with the academic reputation of UM. This is not good for that crowd's support of RR. But, for those on this board, most probably don't care, winning is more important than anything else.

    Bottom line - what can the NCAA really do to UM? Probably nothing. But, what sort of response does the University come back with? Do they simply call all of the players liars? Or, do they publicly shut this down, impose sanctions and confirm the commitment to academics? That is the far more interesting question.


    August 30th, 2009 at 11:07 AM ^

    As far as question 3, many teams walk the thin line between voluntary and mandatory. My guess is that the coaching staff and S&C staff has every minute of workouts and practice planned and classified as "voluntary" or mandatory. I'm sure they also know exactly what counts against NCAA hours. For example, time in the training for treatment of injuries does not count against the time. If thats the case, I doubt there will be any violations with the hours of practice, but I could be wrong.

    restive neb

    August 30th, 2009 at 11:08 AM ^

    I too was wondering how many of the anonymous sources were players (or parents of players) who had already left the team, and why they were allowed to be anonymous. It certainly leads to less credibility if most/all of the primary sources are players who left the team and were taking more parting shots. The fact that Rosenberg doesn't specify, and gives them all anonymity, gives the article the appearance of a hatchet job.


    August 30th, 2009 at 11:09 AM ^

    1. Nice name (I'm a mets fan).

    2. The most important (and telling) quote in the article was the following from compliance director Judy Van Horn.
    "Van Horn said, “Compliance and administrative staff conduct in-person spot checks of practice during the academic year and summer. We have not had any reason to self-report any violations in this area with any of our sports.”

    Seems like U of M is backing Rodriguez, so I'm not too concerned.

    The FannMan

    August 30th, 2009 at 11:14 AM ^

    I bet that the Hawthorne and Stokes quotes were given at media day or some time ago and taken out of context. You also have to like the way Rosenberg makes the quotes seem like smoking guns by saying that the guys must not have been aware of the rules. That is weak. It also shows that he didn't interview them. If he was stiing down with them he would have asked if they knew the rules.


    August 30th, 2009 at 12:10 PM ^

    If I could give points, I would. These kinds of inferences are one of the hallmarks of yellow journalism. He could easily have done the story without it, but the fact he chose to include it speaks volumes about his motives (think "page views").

    I'd also bet that the article is misrepresenting the compliance documentation the players were asked to sign.

    ESPN has picked this up and done a better job than the Free Press with just a couple of phone calls.


    August 30th, 2009 at 11:10 AM ^

    i thought the same thing i believe all the "facts" from the story are from disgruntled former players. why else would the "players" be identified anomously, when stokes and hawethorne are mentioned by name. sounds really fishy to me and a reporter with an agenda.


    August 30th, 2009 at 11:24 AM ^

    I found this in CBS Sportsline's article:

    "The players acknowledged they had signed forms stating NCAA rules had been followed and had not told the university's compliance department about their concerns."

    I'm guessing that is going to be a problem for someone who is trying to prove the allegations.


    August 30th, 2009 at 11:31 AM ^

    Former player: They were breaking the rules and making us work extra hours.

    Reporter to current player: Do you spend a lot of extra time involved with football activities?

    Current player: Yes, we are putting a ton of hours in.

    Print version: Several players gave "almost identical" versions of the story.


    August 30th, 2009 at 11:46 AM ^

    *They granted anonymity because the players requested it, and because that was the only way to get the information, and because the players don't want a commotion at their new schools, and because they don't want to be harassed by abusive maniac M fans, some of which can be found on this page. (And you know they would be abused).

    *More than a few of the players interviewed are current players, you'll find. If the Freep had interviewed mostly ex-players, they would be required to say so. They don't want to look like idiots in the coming weeks, either. ESPN is already confirming much of this.

    *Probably many or most big-time programs bend or defy these rules. That's no excuse, though. One of the great things about M is that it holds itself to high standards. Or once did. If M is guilty of these practices, it's no better than Alabama, USC, or all the other sleazeball programs. Maybe RR just thought what works in the south, for WVU, works at Michigan.

    *The freshmen were flatly asked to describe their daily practice routines. They very clearly replied. Context really isn't necessary. There's no way to spin those answers, and no need.


    August 30th, 2009 at 12:09 PM ^

    *I am well aware that the players wanted to be anonymous. That doesn't mean it is ethical for a newspaper to grant that request. Newspapers are expected to have a compelling reason to grant anonymity to an interviewee. I don't think blogger harassment is a compelling reason.
    *ESPN cited one current and one former player in their most recent article. I'm not sure that means that "more than a few" of the six players who actually made allegations are current players.
    *The issue about whether M should hold itself to "higher standards" than other top-tier programs is one M fans can debate among themselves. But if M's football program is going to be investigated by the NCAA for practicing too much, so should every other program that runs "voluntary" but widely attended workouts.
    *Back to the first point, from your perspective the Freep considered "commotion at their new schools" and harassment by "abusive maniac M fans" so compelling that they granted anonymity to their former-player sources. Wouldn't that also apply to freshmen who in no way volunteered to be part of a story attacking Michigan's football program?


    August 30th, 2009 at 10:10 PM ^

    * Toney Clemons is now one of the players. He was buried on the depth chart and had to leave & sit out a year. Doesn't it seem obvious that he may have a grudge? You did not address former players.

    * The freep doesn't want to look like idiots. That would be your reply to the former AA paper that about the academic "scandal" at M, correct? They looked like idiots and are out of business now. Also, you didn't answer the question.

    *Again, no reply to a question. Michigan doesn't even bend the rules. They have a compliance office and RR says they do not bend the rules. There is no proof of this and if/ until there are NCAA sanctions, there is no proof.

    *The answers by freshmen are fine and accurate. No problem here. This is not a violation because it is their whole day (lunch, voluntary workouts...) that are clearly specified within the NCAA rules. In other words, just being there 10-12 hours a day means nothing. It matters what specifically is done in those hours.


    August 30th, 2009 at 11:48 AM ^

    Where were the ACTUAL statistics on grades if Rosenberg was so set on implying that this hurt players' academic life?

    (oooh right, because they contraindicated that)

    Enjoy Life

    August 30th, 2009 at 12:10 PM ^

    Everyone has a tendency to exaggerate a bit (except of course MGoBloggers) and teenagers perhaps more so than others.

    “Hooooo!” Stokes said. “A typical week is working from 8 a.m. in the morning to 6 or 7 at night, Monday through Saturday.”

    Anyone who would take this literally is an IDIOT!!!

    The statements of Hawthorne & Stokes could have easily been clarified with follow-up questions to determine the real time spent in workouts, etc. But, that would not have been consistent with what the writer was alleging.