Posts Tagged ‘Dave Brandon’

4,500 tickets, 3,000 seats: Former Maize Rage President’s take on new basketball student ticket policy

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013


A week ago, Derick shared his view on the athletic department’s announcement about the new process for basketball student tickets this season. As Superfan, whose role is to lead the chants at the front of the Maize Rage, his view was essentially that it was a net positive because it would result in more seats being full and many of the nation’s top basketball programs already use a similar system.

Now, in the interest of fairness and lending a voice to both sides of the argument, Sam would like to express his differing view. As a former president of the Maize Rage, Sam is certainly a credible voice in the discussion having presided over the student section and involved with it during the resurgence of the program.

(Eric Bronson, U-M Photo Services)

The 2013-14 school year has already proven to be a controversial one for University of Michigan student and Athletic Department relations. First, over the summer, the Athletic Department announced an overhaul of the football student section to first-come, first-serve seating. Seniors were outraged after the realization that, after working their way down the stadium stairs for three years, they would be given no priority for watching games at the Big House.

The move was an understandable one, a result of extremely poor student attendance at the onset of games in the recent past. Athletic Director David Brandon had hinted time and again that some sort of change would be needed, and a change in policy certainly came.

In the past, all students could show up at any time, whether 30 minutes prior to kickoff or midway through the second quarter, and claim their assigned seat – the more credits, the better the seat – without consequence. With the change, the athletic department has forced students into a quasi-ultimatum. Either skip the pre-game festivities and get in line, or sit in the nosebleeds.

Against Central Michigan and Notre Dame, the student section was noticeably packed by the time the ball was kicked, and Brandon’s policy seemed to be doing what it was meant to. Then Akron came to the Big House, and the student section appeared to be about 75 percent empty at the start of the game. In the case of football seating, only time will bring a verdict.

Fast forward to the fall. Michigan’s football team is off to a shaky 4-0 start and, like magic, another new ticket policy has been thrown at Michigan students – this time for basketball.

After selling some 4,500 student basketball season ticket packages, easily a new record, on the heels of a Final Four run, the Athletic Department realized they had made a big mistake.

The students have thrown their support behind John Beilein who has elevated the program out of its lean years (Lon Horwedel, AnnArbor.com)

No, it’s not that the $200 charged to each student wasn’t enough, or that students weren’t showing up on time, but rather that season tickets were oversold – by a long shot.

In an email to student season ticket holders last week, the AD announced that the Crisler Center only has room for about 3,000 students per game, and record purchasing numbers had necessitated a seemingly unforeseen change in policy. From now on, students were told that they would have to claim their tickets to each game days or weeks in advance on a first-come, first-serve basis and that after the 3,000 ticket allotment was claimed, all other student season ticket holders were out of luck – no passing go, no refund, no seat.

Surprisingly, most of the reaction I have heard from the core of the Maize Rage, the most dedicated season ticket holders, has been neutral or even positive. Even our own Derick, the Maize Rage’s Superfan, wrote an article preaching how this policy was needed and that the only students being punished are the “lazy” ones.

I, however, am utterly appalled by the actions of the Athletic Department on multiple levels.

My first issue with this new policy is the apparent ineptitude of the Athletic Department in failing to foresee an issue long before this over-selling came about.

When I was a freshman just six seasons ago, I was one of approximately 400 students who paid $99 for student basketball tickets. On top of the countless gift cards, pizzas, and shirts thrown at us by the Athletic Department for coming to games, we enjoyed an incredible season that included a home win over Duke and the end to Michigan’s NCAA Tournament drought. As the team started to show that it was for real, other students caught on and wanted to join in on the fun, and the Athletic Department was happy to oblige by giving these students free tickets at the door for just about every home game of the season.

The next year, some 1,500 students bought season tickets in anticipation of another great team, and despite a 15-17 finish that year, the team was sure to bounce back, and by the time I was the President of the Maize Rage my senior year in 2011, 2,500 students purchased season tickets. Last year, around 3,000 tickets were sold.

There is a clear theme here: the better the team, the more students want to come. Michigan has lost just two home games over the last two seasons, and after this March’s run to the championship game, the excitement of the team and the fun to be had at Crisler are no longer secrets; kids want to go to games.

With a little bit of forecasting work, the Athletic Department should have anticipated the heightened demand for student tickets and acted accordingly at a more appropriate date. Instead of guaranteeing tickets for every single game for every returning student who wanted in on the action back in April, perhaps a policy should have been put in place to prevent this disaster from happening.

AD Dave Brandon has made several controversial moves over the last few years (AnnArbor.com)

Instead, the Athletic Department was either completely oblivious to what would eventually happen or was so money-thirsty that nothing was done. The only guarantee students are given by the same Athletic Department now is their money back in exchange for their season tickets if they want to help the Athletic Department with their damage control.

Coming up with a policy much earlier would have been quite a bit easier. First, guarantee tickets for every student who has attended at least 80 percent of the home games over the past two seasons, 95 percent of the home games last season, or is a freshman. This would give the most dedicated, passionate, loyal, and, most likely, raucous, students the first chance to order basketball tickets while not punishing those freshmen who have not yet had the chance to prove their fandom. At the same time, it would punish those “lazy” students who have either failed to prove their dedication to the team by continually missing home games, or those who have jumped on the bandwagon.

After these qualified students had the chance to buy tickets, the remaining returning students would then have had the opportunity to purchase as many tickets as were left. If only 3,000 seats can truly be given to students, at least there would be no need to take tickets away from students who already paid full price to have the right to go to every home game. Better yet, you could still have students claim the tickets they want beforehand, and for those tickets not claimed, the students who were not able to purchase season tickets in the first place would have an opportunity to attend a few games.

Instead of this policy, which would have given priority to students who will almost assuredly be at games while also guaranteeing a full student section on a nightly basis, 4,500 students were allowed to purchase tickets in the first place just to be told that 33 percent of those students with a “ticket”, because now a “ticket” is not actually a ticket, would not be able to attend every single game.

As it stands now, there is no distinction or reward given to the dedicated basketball fans that the Athletic Department has feigned preference for, no punishment doled out to the lazy fans that the Athletic Department has pointed to as the reason for implementing this new policy, and certainly no effort to work toward a solution that would see the right fans at Crisler on a nightly basis. And yet somehow, the Athletic Department has convinced the dedicated students that deserve to be at Crisler every night, sans claiming tickets at 8:30am on a weekday five times throughout the season, that this policy was the only solution. The more you think about it, the more clear it becomes that this policy is a money grab by the Athletic Department and nothing more. By giving students the opportunity to sell their tickets back, they absolve themselves of all legal issues, but will still likely be able to collect money for about 1,000 “tickets” that are unusable.

4,500 students bought tickets to enter through this gate, but only up to 3,000 will be able to (Emilio Collavino)

Ultimately, I truly do understand that something had to be done, but I wish it would have been done much earlier and in a much different way. In a perfect world, every student who wants to buy basketball tickets should be able to and should have a seat at Crisler for every game. Furthermore, more than 30 percent of the students need to be in the lower deck (as it stands now, the bleachers and section 130 next to the band seat about 900 students while the rest are thrown in the upper bowl, where it is much more difficult to get fully-involved in the action; this, of course, is so that the AD can continue to collect giant donations from and charge ludicrous prices to the general public for the premium lower bowl seats that really should be going to the students if the AD truly cared about the game day atmosphere), but that is a story for another day.

If the AD honestly failed to foresee a student ticket demand too high for supply and had no other way out, they need to at the very least apologize for the mistake on their part and take away a more reasonable number of tickets, say 500, suck up the slight money loss, expand the student section to the necessary amount, and sell fewer seats to the general public on a nightly basis to make this a possibility. Even then, if more tickets were claimed than were available, the money should be refunded to all those students looking to claim a ticket that they rightly paid for but are not able to receive due to the over-selling.

Instead, students are now stuck with a policy that will see servers crash as they make a virtual mad dash to claim tickets, hoping against hope that 3,000 others don’t claim their games beforehand. More time will be wasted claiming tickets when the students should be in class, studying, or making posters for the next basketball game. And all the while, the AD will laugh while rolling in the money from a broken policy.

What happens when 3,500 students claim a ticket for the home opener against UMass-Lowell? Don’t ask me. Call the Athletic Department and see how the damage control looks now.

Michigan athletic department to penalize lazy student ticket holders

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013


(Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

Following the team’s first Final Four run in 20 years, the University of Michigan’s new basketball student ticket policy will likely have the Wolverines playing in a sold-out Crisler Center for the majority of their games this upcoming season. The policy, announced this week, is designed to penalize lazy students that fail to show up to games and leave purchased tickets unused.

Late Tuesday night, The Michigan Daily revealed that the Michigan Athletic Department oversold the 3,000 available student section seats in Crisler Center. This offseason, around 4,800 of the student season packages were sold. This may be alarming to those hoping to attend every home game to watch their Wolverines, but the Athletic Department’s policy assures that every student will be able to attend the games they want, as long as they purchased the season ticket package.

Michigan’s preconference schedule will be broken down into separate “groups” of tickets, as designated by the Athletic Department. Seventy-two hours before the first game of each group, students will be required to verify which of the games in that group they plan to attend. Afterwards, students will be given only the tickets that they requested. Tickets that aren’t claimed will be resold by the Athletic Department, first to other students and then, if any remain, to the general public.

Students that fail to attend any game in which they claimed a ticket will receive a “strike,” unless the ticket is sold to someone else who attends the game. Any student that receives three strikes during the preconference season may forfeit their Big Ten basketball tickets. Each student must claim a minimum of two nonconference tickets and attend those games in order to remain eligible to claim Big Ten student tickets.

With excitement for Michigan basketball at an all-time high following a trip to the national title game the athletic department is implementing changes to its student ticket policy

In promising that no student season ticket holder will be turned away from a game they wish to attend, the Athletic Department is merely playing the percentages. Last season, an average of less than half of the total number of student ticket holders showed up to each game, and several students failed to claim their season tickets at all throughout the year. This attendance gap came during a year in which the tickets were transferred virtually onto every student’s Michigan ID card in order to make it easier to sell tickets that wouldn’t be used.

Though these new tactics have Ann Arbor in an uproar, Michigan is not the first school to “double sell” tickets. Other powerhouse basketball programs such as Duke University use this ticket policy to pack their arenas for every single home game. Duke’s student section, “The Cameron Crazies” is regarded as one of the best in all of sports and creates a formidable atmosphere for opponents visiting Cameron Stadium.

Michigan students will not lose the opportunity to be at Crisler for games they wish to attend. The policy guarantees season ticket holders a ticket to any game they claim, as long as they aren’t absent from three previously claimed games. Students can also claim and sell the tickets they can’t use, but must be sure that the buyer will attend the game in order to avoid receiving a “strike.”

What may have basketball fans so fired up, besides the inconvenience of claiming tickets a few days before the games, is the increasing boldness that Athletic Director Dave Brandon is willing to display in earning money for Michigan sports. During his short tenure running the Athletic Department, Brandon has drastically increased ticket prices for basketball. He also cashes in on the demand for Michigan football season tickets, charging those that wish to join or remain on the wait list.

However, this new basketball ticket policy may have the same effect as Brandon’s newly-implemented general admission football seating system, which is improving student attendance in the Big House. Changes were made to the football student section in response to the late arrivals of many ticket holders to the games. Head Coach Brady Hoke was publicly disgusted with having a half-filled student section at the start of every game, and the prospect of getting the best seat available has been effective in bringing students to the game before kickoff.

Similarly, Brandon hopes that this year’s basketball ticket process will fill both the lower and upper student sections in the Crisler Center. Double selling tickets is just the latest change in a series of improvements that have made Michigan Basketball one of the top programs in the country. A newly-renovated Crisler Center now boasts one of the nicest Player Development Centers in the nation, an addition that has brought some of the top recruits in the country like Glen Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton to Ann Arbor.

Michigan’s recent success isn’t a coincidence, as all of these changes have had an immediate impact on the basketball program. In 2012, the team spent a week ranked as the top team in the country and boasted a 17-1 home record; but it wasn’t enough to bring 3,000 students to the Crisler Center for non-marquee matchups.

Throughout the year, the Maize Rage student section was often only half-full in the upper deck despite the team’s top-five ranking and elite performance. Crisler’s 12,721-seat capacity is the second-lowest among Big Ten venues (Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena holds only 8,117) and should therefore be full for a men’s basketball team currently experiencing so much success.

The major change to the ticket process is that rather than unclaimed tickets resulting in empty seats, they will be offered to fans that want to see the team play on a less-regular basis. Seats that become available through the “claiming” process will instead be filled by those that couldn’t commit to a season ticket package.

Students that remain loyal to the team and attend the games they commit to will receive no penalty. An atmosphere that was often electric during the Big Ten season last year will be even more formidable when the Crisler Center is packed with students every game.

If students prefer, they may receive a full refund for their tickets next week, as this policy is a major change to the conditions under which the tickets were bought. The rest will be more inclined than ever to join the Maize Rage on October 29, when Michigan welcomes Concordia to Ann Arbor for the first exhibition game.

Michigan 79 – Penn State 71: Wolverines outlast Penn State in Crisler rededication

Sunday, February 17th, 2013


Final 1st 2nd Total
#4 Michigan (22-4, 9-4) 32 47 79
Penn State (21-4, 10-2) 32 39 71

Glenn Robinson III had a much needed monster game (Carlos Osorio, AP)

On a day Michigan fans celebrated the history of the basketball program with former stars like Cazzie Russell, Glenn Rice, and Phil Hubbard in the house for the re-dedication of the refurbished Crisler Center, this year’s team slogged its way to an eight-point victory over the still winless-in-the-Big-Ten Penn State Nittany Lions.

Sunday seemed to be the perfect day to welcome back past players as athletic director Dave Brandon cut the ribbon on his crown masterpiece of a basketball facility, but for 30 minutes or so, the Wolverines seemed tired, off, and perhaps lacking effort before finally pulling out a win to end their first losing streak since the end of last season. Penn State has been downright awful in coach Pat Chambers’ second year leading the program, and despite great effort over the past couple games, the Lions simply lack the talent, size, and athleticism to compete in the Big Ten, much less against the cream of the conference. And despite Chambers’ constant bickering with the officials over the 25 fouls called on his players, they once again came up short in the talent department on the court.

With Penn State’s last win coming nearly two months ago at the end of December, the Nittany Lions are running out of time to tally a victory in the new year; a win today would have been huge, but Trey Burke simply would not let it happen.

As fans and players alike welcomed back past heroes with open arms, Michigan’s current All-American point guard set the stage to state his case for his own jersey number to be retired years down the line. Trey Burke has been the unquestioned best floor general in the country, and he continues to prove his worth, this time with a 29-point (9-of-16 FG, 3-of-4 3p., 8-of-9 FT), five-assist, zero-turnover gem as his point guard counterpart, Tim Frazier, could do nothing but watch from Penn State’s bench. Interestingly enough, Burke himself would be at Penn State today if not for a change of heart his last couple years in high school. It’s hard to imagine them still being winless in the Big Ten if that were the case today.

It was pretty clear throughout Sunday afternoon’s contest that no one from Happy Valley would be able to check Burke on the offensive end of the court, but Penn State also had its hands full with freshman running mate Glenn Robinson III.

Robinson, who emerged early this year as one of the premier freshmen in the country with eye-popping athleticism and a knack for always finding the ball around the rim despite his very quiet nature on the floor, has been in a well-publicized struggle throughout Michigan’s last four games, three of which ended as road losses. Today, he finally came around again, providing countless sparks for the laid back afternoon crowd to erupt as he threw down five “He just did that?!” throwdowns on his way to 21 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting mark from the field and 9-of-11 mark from the free throw line. He also managed to grab 10 rebounds to record his second career double-double.

Trey Burke had a season-high 29 points (Carlos Osorio, AP)

In Michigan’s most difficult stretch of the year, a four-game gauntlet that included three road games at top-25 teams and one top-15 home matchup, Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. were the only two Michigan players that seemed to belong on the same court as the competition. Robinson III, who was rolling beforehand, hit the wall hardest, tallying just 18 points in those four games on a horrendous 7-of-24 mark from the field. Today, Robinson III found his game again and got back in his groove by getting behind and jumping above the defense; his teammates found him time and time again.

Joining Robinson III’s comeback effort was fellow freshman Nik Stauskas, who struggled himself to a lesser extent over the same difficult series of games. His three-point stroke continues to regress to the mean, but Stauskas manages to find offense through other routes as commentators continue to pen him as “not just a shooter”. Today the Canadian scored 18 points on nine shots as he made all three of his two-point attempts and got to the line at a solid rate with his penetrating ability.

Michigan fans at this point can only hope that today’s performances ended the cold shooting spells of Michigan’s two offensive-minded freshmen, but the worries do not end there. Burke, Robinson III, and Stauskas combined for a far-too-many 68 of Michigan’s 79 points. The rest of the team was notably absent from the scoring column, including star junior wing Hardaway, Jr., whose eight points don’t look so good knowing that it took him 11 shots to get there. After that, only two more Wolverines combined to score three points.

Perhaps most concerning of all for John Beilein is the play he got from big men Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Max Bielfeldt. That foursome combined to score zero (yes, zero) points on five shots and only grabbed seven rebounds total in 47 minutes of playing time. The biggest worry for Michigan was not the relatively small winning margin, as the outcome was hardly in doubt for such a lop-sided matchup, but rather the fact that Penn State was able to grab 36 percent of their own misses and 77.4 percent of Michigan’s clankers. One of the Wolverines’ biggest strengths all year has been in their ability to compete on the boards and turn rebounds into points; being out-rebounded by a smaller, less athletic team at home is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

If Michigan is to compete for a second consecutive Big Ten championship, or at least another share of the title, today’s effort will need to be improved upon. There were plenty of good signs throughout, especially from the aforementioned freshmen scoring wings, but the big men and Tim Hardaway especially need to find their game over the remaining five games.

Still sitting two full games out of first place in the Big Ten, Michigan will probably have to win out to achieve their preseason goal of a Big Ten title. With everybody on their games, the Wolverines have the firepower to do that. If anyone is not playing up to par, however, games against Michigan State and Indiana are going to be difficult to pull out, even in the friendly confines of the christened Crisler Center.

Today’s back-and-forth game with Penn State didn’t do much to convince critics that Michigan has what it takes. But that doesn’t matter now. All that counts are two letters: Ws and Ls. Five more of the former and Michigan is right back in the thick of things. Today was a start.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 6-6 0-0 9-11 3 7 10 3 21 0 1 0 0 33
52 Jordan Morgan* 0-1 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 3 0 1 1 0 0 7
03 Trey Burke* 9-16 3-4 8-9 0 3 3 1 29 5 0 0 2 39
10 Tim Hardaway Jr.* 3-11 1-6 1-4 0 2 2 3 8 1 0 1 0 30
11 Nik Stauskas* 5-9 2-6 6-6 0 1 1 0 18 4 2 0 0 34
02 Spike Albrecht 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3
04 Mitch McGary 0-4 0-0 0-1 2 1 3 2 0 1 2 0 0 20
13 Matt Vogrich 0-0 0-0 2-2 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 5
15 Jon Horford 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 2 0 0 0 1 2 16
20 Caris LeVert 0-2 0-2 1-2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 9
44 Max Bielfeldt 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 4
Totals 23-49 6-18 27-35 7 22 39 15 79 12 6 2 4 200
Penn State 25-57 6-18 15-17 10 25 35 25 71 15 13 1 2 200

Michigan Gets it Right With Retro Jerseys

Saturday, June 11th, 2011


Tonight’s unveiling of Michigan’s retro jersey for the Under the Lights Game against Notre Dame on Sept. 10 should excite the Michiagn fanbase as we move on from the past three seasons and into what is shaping up to be an exciting season.

Previously released renderings of the jerseys, even from earlier today, were met with a great deal of angst and disparagement from much of the maize and blue faithful, but the final versions modeled by Denard Robinson and Ryan Van Bergen at tonight’s ceremony should be celebrated.

The uniforms that Michigan unveiled live on MGoBlue.com are certainly differant than Michigan’s traditional solid blue top, but by no means should that be a bad thing.

Michigan’s uniforms are defined by tradition. Similar to Penn State and perhaps Texas, simplicity has made them one of the most iconic in college football.

Other schools that don’t have the history and tradition of the nation’s winningest program, such as Oregon or TCU have gone the gimmicky route full time, even changing styles and designs every few seasons. The addition of Nike’s Pro Combat took it a step further, eschewing tradition for snazzy, money-making get-ups like Florida’s, Arizona State’s, and a bunch of others.

While those uniform designs likely appeal to younger fans, Michigan’s night game duds should encompass the whole spectrum of Michigan fans by tying in the entire history of the Michigan uniform.

“Michigan’s maize and blue jersey is one of the most iconic in all of sports and this new vintage-inspired uniform highlights design cues from throughout Michigan’s rich football tradition honoring 132 years of championship football,” said Jon Yuska, Adidas’ director of sports licensing design.

Because of the lack of significant uniform changes over the course of the 132-year history of Michigan football, especially in the modern era, there weren’t many options to choose from when designing throwbacks to commemorate the game. Aside from changing from Adidas to whoever made the jerseys back in the day, and some minor number or font tweaks, actual throwbacks would look basically the same as what Michigan always wears on Saturdays.

Michigan's 1895 team uniforms

Since creating a true throwback was not really an option, Michigan AD Dave Brandon and the Adidas design team chose to take elements and concepts from the past 132 years and develop a unique uniform that personifies the program’s rich history.

From Michigan’s first captain, David N. DeTar, in 1879, to Bennie Oosterbaan in the 20s to Gerald Ford and Tom Harmon in the 30s, all the way to the stars of the modern era who never got to play under the lights in Ann Arbor, these uniforms represent 132 years of Michigan football.

September 10 deserves to be celebrated, not just for the 85 who get to suit up that day, but for the thousands whose combined efforts have made Michigan football the nation’s best. Tweaking the uniforms ever so slightly to honor one team from the 40s is great, but if that’s to be done, there will be a time and a place for that. This game is about more than one team or one era since it’s carving history out of what is already the sport’s most historic program.

These retro uniforms involve elements from the very beginnings of Michigan football in the late 1800s that wore the block M on the front as well as the striping on the sleeves (if you don’t like that, at least it’s not the full uniform like the Where’s Waldo uniforms some players wore in 1888). It also features the number on the sides of the winged helmets, as Michigan wore in the 1950s and 60s, as well as grey facemasks. Aside from those elements, Michigan’s uniforms really haven’t changed in the modern era.

I commend Brandon and the Adidas design team for integrating several elements of Michigan’s uniform history to create a compelling uniform for this historical occasion. It’s not something I would buy to wear, but I’d probably buy one to hang in a Michigan-themed man cave.

Most importantly, the team seems to love them and they’re only for one game,  so we don’t have to worry about Michigan’s history being thrown out the window. There’s nothing wrong with a little marketing gimick now and then, especially when it gets everybody talking about Michigan football again in a positive light while we watch that school in Ohio’s world crumble more and more each day.

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Michigan Pins Its Hopes on Hoke; Is He the Right Man for the Job?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011


Six days after Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon announced he was firing embattled head coach Rich Rodriguez, the speculation, flight-tracking, and rumor-mongering was put to rest with the announcement of the hiring of Brady Hoke as the 19th head coach in Michigan football history. But while the waiting ended, questions abound as to whether this was the right move.

Hoke coached at Michigan from 1995-2002 under Lloyd Car

After proclaiming in last Wednesday’s press conference that he would seek out a “Michigan Man,” Brandon met with Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles, both former Wolverine players under legendary coach Bo Schembechler. Harbaugh was considered the top choice for most Wolverine faithful, and when he accepted the head job with the San Francisco 49ers, Brandon seemingly turned to Miles. While Miles’ ethics were called into question by many Michigan fans, most accepted him as a logical choice to replace Rodriguez given his success at LSU.

We went to bed Monday night expecting Miles to become Michigan’s new head man on Tuesday. However, early Tuesday afternoon, Miles was taken out of consideration when LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva stated, “Les has led this program to many great successes on the field and his players represent LSU well off the field. We look forward to many great years of LSU football under his leadership.”

It didn’t take long before Hoke was named head coach and Michigan fans are left with more questions than answers. Brandon insists Hoke was the guy from the beginning and that Harbaugh and Miles were never even offered the job, but if that’s the case, then Brandon has a lot at stake in the coming years.

Don’t get me wrong; beginning with Hoke’s introductory press conference on Wednesday, I’ll fully back the new coach and root for him to become Michigan’s next Bo. If he can turn the program around, he will certainly become a legend in Ann Arbor. But that doesn’t mean I think it was the right move for the short term or the long term.

For starters, I think Brandon jumped the gun and caved into the pressure in his first year as Michigan’s AD. Of course he will mask it by saying that leaders have to be willing to make tough decisions even when unpopular, but in reality, the pressure from the media and boosters was too much, forcing Brandon’s hand at least a year early.

Rodriguez had improved each season, from 3-9 to 5-7 to 7-6 and a New Years Day bowl game. Granted, the bowl wound up being the worst bowl loss in Michigan history and the three-year stretch is the worst percentage-wise in in Michigan history, but that’s as much a reflection on the original decision to hire him as it is about his ability to coach. Fans, boosters, and alumni were screaming for change when Lloyd Carr retired and then-AD Bill Martin hired just what they wanted. However, it was going to take time, which apparently was never agreed to by those requesting the change. The year-over-year improvement at least warranted a fourth year, given the number of returning starters and the vast amount of youth on the defensive side of the ball. At the very worst, if Rodriguez failed to improve in year four, Hoke would still be available and Brandon could make the decision much earlier in the process than Jan. 11 so as to not hurt the incoming recruiting class.

This is nothing against Hoke as a man or as a coach. He represents everything a Michigan football coach should: a passion for Michigan football, previous coaching experience at Michigan, a history of success, hard-nosed recruiting, and unquestioned ethics. I grew up with his niece and nephew, proud that I had a connection to a Michigan coach during the glory years of the late 90s. I like the guy and think he will succeed at Michigan…eventually.

Unfortunately, I think this decision means another two or three years before we can expect to challenge for Big Ten titles. The past three years have been spent recruiting for the spread offense. Recruiting Denard Robinsons instead of Tom Bradys, Martavious Odoms instead of Braylon Edwards, Vincent Smiths instead of Tyrone Wheatleys, and Patrick Omamehs instead of Jake Longs. In short, Hoke will have to fit Rodriguez’s guys into a completely different system than what they were recruited for and have practiced in the past three years, which is exactly the issue that landed Rodriguez on the unemployment line after just three seasons.

Hoke has a career record of 47-50, but turned around Ball State and San Diego State, including a win over Navy in this year's Poinsettia Bowl

Brandon said one of the pieces of criteria for the new coach is the ability to adapt his system. The biggest question Hoke will face early on is whether he can adapt his traditional pro-style offense to fit the skills of Robinson, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. If Robinson chooses to remain in Ann Arbor, this move could ultimately help his NFL potential by making him a more complete quarterback. Perhaps Hoke will bring back former UM quarterbacks coach Scott Loeffler who developed John Navarre and Chad Henne, and in his most recent gig, Tim Tebow at Florida.

Regardless, it’s hard to imagine hiring Hoke as being an upgrade from keeping Rodriguez for a fourth year. Will 2011 yield better results with Hoke? It’s doubtful.

Next season’s Wolverines are going to be a good team no matter who is coaching, with 10 starters returning on each side of the ball and the addition of senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk who missed the entire year with an injury. The schedule sets up nicely with Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State all at home and Penn State and Wisconsin off the schedule. A fourth year in Rodriguez’s system and a second-year starter in Robinson would have surely improved on its 33 points per game. And the defense would have been better with the return of Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd, who missed the final five games, and simply because as the nation’s 110th-ranked total defense, there’s virtually nowhere to go but up.

A serious run at the Big Ten title was not out of the question for next season under Rodriguez, and with several top recruits including Demetrius Hart, who had committed to Rodriguez (and has since committed to Alabama) in the fold, the program was destined for success. It just didn’t happen quickly enough for an impatient and arrogant fan base.

Now, here we are with the irony of all ironies, with the same fans and boosters who were clamoring for change because nine wins a season wasn’t good enough now calling for a mulligan. The school was embarrassed the past week with a national coaching search which, at least on the outside, looked like a joke, because of a decision that leaves Brandon in a tough spot if the transition this time around turns out similar three-year results as the one he just ended. I don’t think we’ve become Notre Dame yet, but if that happens, we’re well on our way.

All that said, I hope Hoke proves to be the best possible option for Michigan football and goes out and wins the Big Ten championship in 2011 and restores a sense of pride and the air of ‘the Victors’ to Ann Arbor. He certainly knows Michigan traditions, the importance of beating Michigan State and Ohio State, and how to win in the Big Ten. While I can’t fault Rodriguez for lacking those attributes, it’s one area in which Hoke is an improvement. And who knows, maybe it means more than we think. Welcome back, Coach.

GATOR WAIT: Gator Bowl Loss Leaves Rodriguez’s Fate in Doubt

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011


Well, to make what might be the understatement of the year for Michigan fans, that was painful. It was fun for about the first four minutes and four seconds when Denard Robinson led Michigan right down the field for an impressive touchdown. Then Mississippi State got the ball and the game was over. The Bulldogs spotted Michigan another touchdown and then proceeded to run up 42 straight points including a 31 yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-10 with a 31-point lead and 10 minutes left.

Against Ohio State or Michigan State or Wisconsin I might have been mad. But Mississippi State put on a clinic, making me envious of a fast, talented, well-coached defense. A defense that sees what the opponent’s offense is doing and makes changes to counter it. Must be nice.

Instead, I saw a Michigan defense that was consistently out of place, running from the sideline at the last second before a snap, players running across the field not knowing where to line up, and having absolutely no clue how to stop an opponent it got five weeks to prepare for. An opponent that didn’t score that many points in a game all season, including against the powerhouses of Memphis, Alcorn State, Houston, and UAB.

If Michigan could play entire games solely on offense or if football games were just 15 minutes long, Michigan might be national champions. Unfortunately, defense is half the game and games are 60 minutes long. Michigan dominated the first quarter this season, outscoring opponents 122-64. But once things settled down, we saw week after week that opposing coaches were able to make changes and Michigan’s weren’t. In second quarters this season, Michigan was outscored 194-83.

All season long, I’ve publicly supported Rich Rodriguez getting a fourth year. At this point, I’m as close to changing my mind as I have been all year. After the loss to Penn State on Oct. 30, I created the Rich Rod-ometer which showed my level of acceptance with the coach at an all-time low. Now, if I were to show an updated version, there would be just a tiny sliver of white on the right-hand side.

It’s not that I want Michigan AD Dave Brandon to let Rodriguez go; I still do think he can produce some great teams here and is headed in the right direction. But I also think that something needs to change. And that something is the defense. For the second year in Rodriguez’s three seasons Michigan allowed more points than its offense scored. The last time that happened was 1967.

I wish it could have worked out too, Coach Rob, but it's time to part ways

My opinion is that Brandon should put up as much money as it takes to get the best defensive coordinator he can possibly get, ideally West Virginia DC Jeff Casteel. I think the perception that Rodriguez doesn’t care about defense is false. He’s definitely an offensive-minded coach, but he had good defenses in Morgantown when Casteel was on his staff. Due to a mixture of lack of talent, youth, bad luck, and a poor fit with Greg Robinson, Michigan’s defense has regressed each of the past three seasons.

Yes, you can blame Rodriguez for hiring Robinson, but it’s not like he was an unproven no-name defensive coordinator. He had some credentials and two Super Bowl rings to prove it. Whether it was injuries, youth, or being forced to run Rodriguez’s 3-3-5 (I’m sure it was a combination of the three), he just didn’t work out. And now he should be shown the door where he will undoubtedly succeed somewhere else.

With nearly every defensive starter returning and getting senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk back from injury, this defense could be much improved next season, especially under Casteel or another top-notch coordinator. If it’s even average, it could be enough for a Big Ten title run next season with the talent returning on offense.

I admit that I am intrigued by the thought of Jim Harbaugh replacing Rodriguez, but I still don’t think it will yield short-term results. Harbaugh will give fans, alumni, and boosters a “Michigan Man” at the helm and he will add some fire to the Ohio State game. But he also presents a philosophy shift back to where Michigan was three years ago. All progress from the past three years will be lost and another period of growing pains will ensue. Denard will probably leave (but not to the NFL) and a number of others will too.

Remember, Harbaugh’s resurrection of Stanford followed nearly the exact same evolution as Rodriguez’s has at Michigan (4-8, 5-7, 8-5 with a bowl loss, and now 11-1, compared to Rodriguez’s 3-5, 5-7, 7-6 to date).  With a revamped defensive staff, next year’s Michigan team certainly has the talent for a similar season as Stanford’s this year. And that’s where my hesitation with giving up on Rodriguez lies.

Keeping everything intact is not an option at this point. So if something has to change I think keeping Rodriguez and going after Casteel or another top-notch defensive coordinator has the same long-term potential as firing Rodriguez and hiring Harbaugh. The difference for me is in the short-term. I think Rodriguez with an experienced offense led by a junior Denard and even an average defense will have a better season than Harbaugh without Denard and possibly several others, running a different offense than what has been run the past three years.

Ultimately, the decision rests with Brandon and I know he has done his due diligence and will make the best decision for the University of Michigan. Whether that’s sticking with Rodriguez or bringing back Captain Comeback, I’ll support it 100 percent. But despite the letdown this New Years Day, I still think Rodriguez’s best days are ahead.

GIVING THANKS: What I’m thankful for this season, poem style

Thursday, November 25th, 2010


One week in mid-November makes us obsess a little bit more than all the others: Ohio State week, or Buckeye week, or Hate week. Whatever you want to call it, we spend more time during the week longing for Saturday to come, more time ragging on our family, friends, and coworkers who have the unfortunate quality of being Ohio State fans, and more time telling “a Michigan fan and Ohio State fan walked into a bar…” jokes.

 

So I’ll spend a little more time this week writing about all things Michigan and Ohio State related. Thank goodness for Thanksgiving making this a two-day work week! I’ll publish an article every day this week, the schedule as follows:

 

Monday: Wisconsin recap and Ohio State preview

Tuesday: What The Game means to me

Wednesday: Why Michigan has a chance on Saturday
(Note: I apologize for not getting this up today. Our drive from New York to Tennessee for Thanskgiving  took a lot longer than expected and I haven’t yet mastered typing while driving. I’ll try to get it up either today or Friday, but the rest is still on schedule)

Thursday: What I’m thankful for this season

Friday: Michigan-Ohio State game preview

_____________________________________________________________________________________

A Thanksgiving poem of all of the reasons
I’m thankful for Michigan this Twenty-ten season.

For a refurbished Big House with club seats
back to the biggest including new suites.

For keeping The Game at season’s end
when next year Nebraska joins the Big Ten.

For the NCAA ruling Rich didn’t lose control
as was claimed in allegations from those Free Press fools.

For a new AD coming from Dominos, 
a Michigan Man and disciple of Bo.

For Brock Mealer walking against all odds,
beating one percent and giving glory to God.

For Denard against UConn and his long flowing dreads,
his human Heisman pose turning all of our heads.

For 200-yard rushing and passing games
and making Shoelace a household name.

For Tate not quitting through adversity
and remaining loyal to our university.

For coming in and leading touchdown drives
and cheering on Denard and giving high fives.

For Vincent returning from an ACL tear
to be our best back with his dreadlocked hair.

For Junior finally playing an entire year
without getting injured like we all feared.

For his Braylon-like grabs and catch-and-runs
and making the Illinois game really fun.

For Roy and his impressions of Donald Duck
and proving our passing game does not suck.

For Stonum wearing his press conference glasses
and teaming up with Denard to catch lots of passes.

For 65 against the Bowling Green boys
and topping that score against Illinois.

For becoming bowl-eligible once again
and those who have stayed are true Michigan Men.

For another comeback against Notre Dame,
and Weis or Kelly…it’s all the same.

For Devin getting his feet wet for a few plays
and a QB position that’s stocked if he stays.

For David Molk anchoring the offensive line
and fighting through injuries all the time.

For Lewan looking like a young Jake Long
and for The Victors, the greatest fight song.

For Mike Martin, the incredible hulk
clogging the middle like spackle and caulk.

For youth on defense getting experience this year
to help bring us back to a defense that’s feared.

For Woolfolk’s ankle that’s healing so he can come back
next year to put our defense back on track.

For seven wins, which is more than our losses
and all of our offense’s long touchdown tosses.

So on this Thanksgiving while we eat lots of food,
let’s give thanks to our boys in the Maize and Blue.

And will them to win over Ohio State,
the team that we’re all thankful to hate.

New Big Ten Gets it Right

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010


The Big Ten announced the layout of its two divisions beginning in 2011 and Big Ten fans across the country should be happy. While there was much speculation in recent days that Michigan and Ohio State being put in separate divisions would equal doom, since it could mean moving the historic game between the two rivals to mid-season, it didn’t happen. 

New Big Ten Divisions
“X” Division “O” Division
Ohio State Michigan
Penn State Nebraska
Wisconsin Iowa
Purdue Michigan State
Illinois Northwestern
Indiana Minnesota

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany came through with a layout that I believe is as good as it can get with two yet-to-be-named divisions, though I would still prefer one big conference with 12 teams where each team plays all the others. However, current NCAA rules require multiple divisions in order to hold a championship game, so if this is how it’s going to be, this announcement should please the masses.

First of all, the parity is perfect. Since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, the six schools in the “O” Division have an overall record of 724-517-3 (58.3 percent), while the six schools in the “X” Division have an overall record of 708-517-9 (57.8 percent).

Narrowing down the sample size to the past decade doesn’t change the parity either, as the “O” Division had an overall record of 428-317 (57.4 percent) and the “X” Division had an overall record of 416-322 (56.4 percent).

It would appear that the “X” Division is a little bit more top-heavy with Ohio State (54-10), Penn State (51-13), and Wisconsin (48-17) ranking as the top three in the Big Ten in wins during the past five years. However, much of that disparity is a result of the past two seasons in which Michigan has gone just 8-16. In other words, when Michigan returns to form, the “X” Division won’t seem quite as top-heavy compared to the “O” Division.

The “O” Division seems to be more well-rounded from top to bottom, with only Minnesota (27-36) compiling a losing record during the last five years, while in the “X” Division, Purdue (30-32), Indiana (23-37), and Illinois (21-39) all featured losing records during that time period.

Protected Crossover Games
“X” Division   “O” Division
Ohio State vs. Michigan
Penn State vs. Nebraska
Wisconsin vs. Minnesota
Purdue vs. Iowa
Illinois vs. Northwestern
Indiana vs. Michigan State

Secondly, the existing rivalries will remain intact, most importantly Michigan-Ohio State. The announcement that The Game will remain at the end of the season will satisfy the vast majority of the Ohio State and Michigan fan bases whose outcry was mentioned by both Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon and Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith on the Big Ten Network’s announcement special. Even Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne confessed to receiving phone calls and emails from angry Michigan and Ohio State  fans about moving The Game, some blaming him for causing the move.

Since the two teams are in separate divisions, the door is open for the possibility of playing twice in the same season, but realistically, that should rarely happen.

Keeping The Game as the last game of the conference schedule makes it essentially a do-or-die game, preserving the core of the rivalry – the chance to either make it to the next level or salvage your season by keeping the other from advancing. And that’s the way it should be. In 14 of the past 15 seasons, The Game has had implications on the Big Ten title.

Michigan will also be able to keep its rivalries alive with Michigan State and Minnesota (for the Little Brown Jug) in the “O” Division, while also forming a divisional rivalry with Nebraska, which claims a share of the 1997 National Championship with Michigan.

Other rivalries like Ohio State-Penn State and Purdue-Indiana will be played every season as well since they fall in the same division. The conference will also preserve other rivalries, such as Minnesota-Wisconsin, as protected crossover games.

Thirdly, and perhaps least importantly, the divisions fit well geographically. Not that the area encompassed by the Big Ten is all that big, but it’s essentially divided up into the north (the “O” Division) and the south (the “X” Division).

Nebraska is really the only outlier in the west, similar to Penn State in the east, and with the protected crossover game, the two will alternate home and away trips each year.

So how does this affect Michigan?.

Upcoming Michigan Big Ten Schedules
2011 2012
Oct. 1 Minnesota Sept. 29 Bye
Oct. 8 Northwestern Oct. 6 Purdue
Oct. 15 Michigan State Oct. 13 Illinois
Oct. 22 Bye Oct. 20 Michigan State
Oct. 29 Purdue Oct. 27 Nebraska
Nov. 5 Iowa Nov. 3 Minnesota
Nov. 12 Illinois Nov. 10 Northwestern
Nov. 19 Nebraska Nov. 17 Iowa
Nov. 26 Ohio State Nov. 24 Ohio State
*Home Games in Bold
*2011 Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis

For starters, the schedule sets up perfectly for Michigan’s expected rise back to power in 2011. Michigan will get a break by seeing Penn State and Wisconsin drop off the schedule for the next two years and Purdue and Illinois added as the crossover games.

In addition, Michigan gets Nebraska and Ohio State at home, along with non-conference rival Notre Dame, setting up a dream home schedule for ticket-holders.

Trips to Michigan State and Iowa loom, but Iowa is a very senior-heavy team this season and will be breaking in a new quarterback in 2011 when Ricky Stanzi graduates.

Finishing out the season with Nebraska and Ohio State back-to-back is a tough way to close, but that’s exactly the way it should be. The teams should be playing at their best by the end of the season, so long as they stay healthy, so the final two weekends will virtually serve as play-in games for the Big Ten Championship. Ohio State hosts Penn State the week before traveling to Michigan as well.

All the talking heads saying Rich Rodriguez is on the hot seat this year should simmer down the burner because he’s not going anywhere.

With the combination of the 2011 schedule, 19 returning starters (counting senior cornerback Troy Wollfolk who is expected to redshirt for the 2010 season with an ankle injury), and third-year quarterbacks (Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson), the worst thing Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon could do is fire Rodriguez after this season.

For the Big Ten as a whole, today’s announcement should be seen very favorably. For Michigan fans, this announcement just gives us another reason to get excited for 2011. 

For now, though, there’s another season to play – the last of the old Big Ten.

The State of Michigan Football (for Dummies)

Sunday, August 29th, 2010


Being a Michigan fan that grew up in Ohio and currently lives in New York, I’m constantly bombarded with ridicule from friends and family about the state of the Michigan football program.

“Wow, Michigan has really fallen apart; I don’t think they’ll ever be the same,” one will say, or “Don’t you wish you had a quality coach like Tressel?” another will ask.

In passing conversation, especially with an Ohio State fan, it’s impossible to adequately describe the perfect storm that has been Michigan football the past two seasons.

So as we enter Week 1 of the 2010 college football season, let’s put into words how Michigan’s recent demise, while frustrating, is not quite as bad as it seems.

Be Careful What You Wish For

On the surface, it’s easy to pronounce, “Carr never had a losing season and Rodriguez has losing seasons in each of his first two years, therefore, Rodriguez is a terrible coach and must be fired.”

Yet, a little critical thinking will tell you that there’s more to it than that. The blame for the past two seasons should be as much on former Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin as on Head Coach Rich Rodriguez. It was Martin, after all, who decided to take Michigan down a completely new path to modernity following Carr’s retirement after the 2007 season.

The hiring of Rich Rodriguez signaled a shift to modernity for Michigan

The hiring of Rich Rodriguez signaled a shift to modernity for Michigan

Carr was a conservative coach who continued the success of his mentor, Michigan legend Bo Schembechler, combining with Bo and Gary Moeller to guide the program to 40 straight winning seasons and 33 straight bowl games. His teams were never going to go out and put up 60 points or step on an opponent’s throat while it was down. But they were never going to get blown out either.

That was both a blessing and a curse. Carr’s safe approach, whether it was punting on fourth-and-one from the opponent’s 45 with a minute and-a-half left in the half, or running three straight times to wind down the clock late in the game while clinging to a two-point lead, worked out more often than not. However, in the few instances when it gave the opponent enough time to score before the half, or gave the opponent the ball back with a chance to drive for the winning score, it was enraging. Michigan fans were constantly calling for Carr to stop being so conservative and some were even calling for him to be fired.

When Martin went out and hired an offensive innovator from West Virginia, some Michigan fans were disappointed that he didn’t get former Michigan offensive lineman Les Miles, while others were intrigued by the notion of the spread offense in Ann Arbor.

Martin knew upon hiring Rodriguez that, while he was an offensive genius, that coaching IQ fit a certain system. His style of coaching doesn’t mesh with the 320-pound offensive linemen and statuesque quarterbacks of Michigan past. He needs smaller, quicker offensive linemen and dual-threat quarterbacks. Whether you think that’s the sign of a good coach or not, that’s what Martin hired.

Right off the bat, Michigan fans expecting a carry-over from the Schembechler/Moeller/Carr regime were in for a letdown. That blame cannot be pinned on Rodriguez.

An Empty Cupboard Won’t Yield a Feast

Carr officially retired following the 2007 season, but he seemingly checked out a couple of years prior. He first hinted at calling it quits prior to 2007 and many believe that had Michigan beaten Ohio State in 2006 and advanced to the National Championship game, Carr’s exit would have come then.

Lloyd Carr didn't leave much for Rodriguez to work with following the 2007 season

Lloyd Carr didn't leave much for Rodriguez to work with following the 2007 season

He entered 2007 with a senior four-year-starter at quarterback (Chad Henne) and a hot-shot freshman (Ryan Mallett) backing him up. Part of Carr’s bait to hook Mallett, the number two quarterback in the 2006 high school class, was that the job was his when Henne graduated and Carr wouldn’t recruit a quarterback in the 2007 class.

Mallett, however, had trouble adjusting to Ann Arbor, butting heads with Carr during his freshman season, while being thrust into playing time during Henne’s injury-plagued senior season. By all accounts, Mallett intended to return home following that season regardless of who the coach was in 2008.

Following that season, Henne graduated along with four-year starting running back Mike Hart and left tackle Jake Long (the 1st overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft). Junior wide receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington chose to enter the Draft and left guard Adam Kraus graduated, leaving Rodriguez with just a handful of returning starters on offense, none of which were suited for his offense.

The coaching transition was further slowed when Rodriguez lost out on Terrelle Pryor to Ohio State and offensive lineman Justin Boren bolted for Ohio State, bad-mouthing the program on his way out.* Pryor’s talents fit Rodriguez’s system and would have made some difference in 2008 and Boren certainly had the talent, but wasn’t committed to working hard enough for Rodriguez’s system.

Instead, Rodriguez was left with less talent and experience on offense than the majority of college football. His choice at quarterback was a freshman (Steven Threet) or a walk-on junior (Nick Sheridan), neither of which had any game experience and neither was suited for Rodriguez’s system. That alone wouldn’t have doomed the Wolverines had there been an experienced supporting cast to make up for it.

The best running back Rodriguez had was also a true freshman, Sam McGuffie, a Carr recruit who would have redshirted in any normal situation. The top receiver was a true freshman as well, Martavious Odoms, one of Rodriguez’s first recruits at Michigan who is more suited to be a supporting receiver rather than the lead role.

It’s certainly no stretch to say that no team in college football history has succeeded with freshmen starting at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, no matter how highly-touted they are coming out of high school. It’s also no stretch to say that no coach in the country could have fared well with what Rodriguez had to work with in 2008.

Three of the top players in Michigan history at their position (Jake Long, Chad Henne, Mike Hart) graduated prior to Rodriguez's hiring

Three of the top players in Michigan history at their position (Jake Long, Chad Henne, Mike Hart) graduated prior to Rodriguez's hiring

Essentially, Rodriguez had two choices: to design a completely new playbook to fit the talents of the players Carr left behind or to begin installing his spread ‘n shred offense.

The former might have yielded another win or two that season, allowing Threet and Sheridan to be drop-back passers and McGuffie to run for three yards and a cloud of dust. Yet it would have set back the progression of the offense Rodriguez was going to install – the one he made his living on in working his way up from Glennville State to Tulane to Clemson to West Virginia and, ultimately, to Michigan.

The latter would at least get that progression started for Odoms and the rest of the players recruited by Rodriguez specifically for that offense.

Again, keep in mind that Martin didn’t hire a coach who then surprised everyone by running some wacky offense that no one knew about. Martin knew when he hired Rodriguez that he was essentially a system coach and the best in his field.

To expect that system to work from Day 1 is ludicrous even if he had Henne, Hart, and Long. Simply put, Michigan didn’t have the right players and that’s not Rodriguez’s fault.

Imagine if Schwinn Bicycle Company hired a new CEO who decided the company was going to start making airplanes. While the company is great at making bikes, handlebars and spokes will only fly so far. Mr. CEO would have to begin acquiring the necessary components to build airplanes and it wouldn’t happen overnight.

In the world of college football, players stay in a system for four or five years, making the roster turnover a slow process. It’s impossible to just get rid of 100-plus players of the old regime and bring in 100-plus of your guys. It takes four or five years to turn over the roster, and in theory, the results should progress each year.

By planting the seeds of his offense from Day 1, Rodriguez began to water the roots of his system.

In 2009, Rodriguez was able to land two quarterbacks that fit his offensive style, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Threet transferred to Arizona State when he realized he was a square peg in a round hole and Sheridan was relegated to third string.

In one sense, Rodriguez has progressed with Odoms and the rest of the returnees from 2008 already having a knowledge base of the system. But on the other hand, he was back at square one, having to start another true freshman at quarterback.

Even so, the offense showed marked year-over-year improvement, going from 20.2 points and 290.8 yards per game in 2008 to 29.5 points and 384.5 yards per game in 2009. It just lacked consistency as a result of inexperience.

Reporters With an Axe to Grind

The next fodder for the anti-Rodriguez crowd is the allegation of cheating which was exposed by the Detroit Free Press last August. While all kinds of conspiracy theories exist, the fact is that the Free Press’ reports were nothing short of slanted, biased and exaggerated.

The paper’s writers, Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder, succeeded in creating a national sense of animosity towards Rodriguez and ego-boosting by fans of other schools.

The NCAA’s probe, released in February found five violations that in any other situation would be considered the minor, slap-on-the-wrist types that are constantly self-reported or overlooked by other schools. However, as a result of the “Freep Jihad,” the NCAA came down hard, finding five so-called major violations.

While all are nothing more than what would be found at nearly every other school in the country, the national perception is that Michigan and Rich Rodriguez knowingly cheated. It’s easy to create that perception when you’re a reporter with an axe to grind. Just find a couple of disgruntled former players who will gladly trash their former coach as well as a few ignorant freshmen and distort their words. In that way, the situation in Ann Arbor is different than everywhere else.

The Detroit Free Press drove the NCAA allegations with this article

The Detroit Free Press drove the NCAA allegations with this article being just one of many slanted pieces by Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder

There is no doubt that Ohio State would find itself behind the eight-ball if the Columbus Dispatch decided to declare jihad on the school. Just this summer the Ohio State athletic department self-reported 13 minor violations between Jan. 1 and July 1, six involving the football program. In fact, since 2000, Ohio State has self-reported 375 minor violations (across all sports), the most of any school in the NCAA. By comparison, Oklahoma has self-reported 224 and Florida 112. 

This leads to two possible conclusions: either Ohio State purposely crosses the line just a little bit, and decides every now and then to self-report just to keep the NCAA at bay; or Ohio State’s athletic department and coaching staff don’t monitor the rule book well enough to know that they shouldn’t keep making these kinds of mistakes.

Either way, if the Dispatch decided that instead of just reporting these violations, they were going to dive in and blow them out of proportion, the NCAA would almost certainly have to come down hard.

So the issue isn’t that Rich Rodriguez is a cheating scumbag; it’s that he didn’t meet the standards of two local reporters.

I’m not saying that Michigan wasn’t wrong, but failing to count 10 minutes of stretching as countable practice time certainly doesn’t justify the national perception created by Rosenberg and Snyder, nor does it create any more of a competitive advantage than those 375 minor violations at Ohio State.

To Paraphrase Arnold, We’ll Be Back

So now that Rodriguez finds himself firmly on the proverbial hot seat, many consider him all but gone if Michigan fails to have a great season this year. But that’s not the case.

If absolutely no progress is shown and another losing season is the end result, then it could happen. But a winning season, a bowl game, and signs of progress assure a fourth season on the job because 2011 promises to be a good one.

Forcier and Robinson will be juniors in 2011, leading 10 returning starters on offense

Forcier and Robinson will be juniors in 2011, leading 10 returning starters on offense

Following this season, Michigan loses only one starter on the offensive side (left guard Stephen Schilling) and two on the defensive side (linebackers Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton).

When senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk went down with a season-ending ankle injury last week, it was both a blessing and a curse. Woolfolk won’t be able to help out a very thin secondary this season, but intends to come back for his senior season in 2011, so a position that will be a weakness this season will be a strength next year.

In addition to 18 starters returning (19 if you count getting Woolfolk back), quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson will be in their third season running the offense. By then, their comfort level will be enough to ensure an offense sure to be as vaunted as those Rodriguez featured at West Virginia.

The schedule also sets up nicely with Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Ohio State at home, Penn State off the schedule, and Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and San Diego State as the other non-conference opponents (although the conference schedule may change due to the realignment and addition of Nebraska).  

In other words, Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon would be ill-advised to fire Rodriguez after this season unless things really blow up. I don’t support firing him this season anyway, since 2011 will really be the determining season.

Consider 2010 the primer for a run at the inaugural Big Ten Championship next season. Don’t write off Rodriguez and the Wolverines just yet, because it’s not quite as bad as it seems.

________________________________________________________________________________

*Many have also piled on Rodriguez for the players that have left the program for various reasons, such as Boren and wide receiver Toney Clemons who transfered, Justin Feagen and Boubacar Cissoko who were kicked off the team, and others who failed to qualify. Yet they forget that Carr had the same troubles.

In 2007 alone, Carr dismissed tight end Carson Butler, defensive end Eugene Germany, and cornerback Chris Richards from the team for violating team rules, backup quarterback Jason Forcier (Tate’s older brother) transfered to Stanford, and linebacker Cobrani Mixon transfered to Kent State (all of which subsequently hurt the depth of Rodriguez’s teams).

Transforming THE Game into a Game; It Was Fun While it Lasted

Sunday, August 29th, 2010


First of all, please accept my apologies for the last three weeks with no new content. Life has a way of getting in the way of things and this time I certainly can’t complain. In the span of a week, I started a new (and much more enjoyable) position at work which has required a lot of travel, my wife and I got a dog, and we found out we are expecting our first child this coming March.

So I hope you can understand the lack of content as of late. That being said, I am going to discontinue the opponent preview series since at this point I would have to post a new one every day until the first game and I’d rather focus on Michigan-related content leading up to kickoff.

So let’s talk about a topic no one else in the world has covered: the impending announcement about the new Big Ten and what will happen to The Game. You know, the annual season-ending game between Michigan and Ohio State, not that it’s a big deal or anything.

My stance is much like the rest of the Michigan and Ohio State fan bases – that The Game should remain the last week of the regular season and that if two divisions are necessary, Michigan and Ohio State should be in the same division, though I would prefer no divisions.

Michigan and Ohio State have played the final game of the season since 1935

Michigan and Ohio State have played the final game of the season since 1935

There are times when changing to keep up with the times is a good thing but there are also times when respecting tradition is the way to go. In this case, tradition has to trump modernity.

The Game is what it is because it hasn’t become watered down and or turned into just another game. It’s arguably the greatest rivalry in all of sports and no doubt the best rivalry in college football, but much of the mystique is cultivated from the entire season building up to that moment. The moment with the outright Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line. The moment that can salvage an otherwise down season by playing spoiler and keeping the other from winning the Big Ten title and making the trip to Pasadena.

More times than not, something is on the line when the two teams meet in mid-November. Often, the game ends up serving as the Big Ten championship, and that’s the way it should be.

If The Game is moved to October, as has been rumored, the players, coaches, and fans will still be excited about the game, but the entire meaning of the game will be lost. It will become just another game, preceded by one opponent and succeeded by another. The Big Ten title won’t be on the line, nor will a trip to the Rose Bowl. Instead of being rewarded with a trip to Pasadena, the winner could get the “opportunity” to travel to Bloomington to face Indiana the following week. Woo hoo!

Imagine sitting in a movie theater watching the latest blockbuster thriller and midway through the movie finding out the outcome and then having to sit through the rest of the drama. Or reading a book and finding out the main character saves the world midway through, but then having to read the rest of the boring dialogue.

The proponents of changing The Game say it opens the door to the two teams meeting again in the new Big Ten championship game, which will be played at a neutral site, beginning next season in Indianapolis. Sure it could happen, but this is college football, folks, not the NFL. Teams should only meet once a year, whether it’s Michigan-Ohio State or Indiana-Purdue. You might as well have every team in the conference play twice during the regular season – once at home, once away – and then advance to a playoff to decide the Big Ten champion. Let’s just wipe away all remnants of tradition from The Game while we’re at it.

Bo and Dr. Strangehayes routinely squared off in mid-November for the Big Ten title

Bo and Dr. Strangehayes routinely squared off in mid-November for the Big Ten title

Even if Michigan and Ohio State did meet again in the Big Ten championship game (which, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, would have only happened three or four times in the past 17 seasons) it would water down the rivalry much like Duke-North Carolina in basketball. As stated earlier, the mystique of the rivalry comes from getting only one shot to beat your archrival.

New Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon doesn’t agree.

“One of the best things that could happen, in my opinion in a given season, would be the opportunity to play Ohio State twice,” Brandon said.

Sure his credentials carry a lot more weight than mine, since he’s the current AD and played in the rivalry at Michigan under Bo Schembechler. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are any more right or that playing the same team twice in a season is necessarily a good thing.

What happens if Michigan wins the regular season matchup and finishes the Big Ten schedule 9-0, while Ohio State finishes the Big Ten schedule 8-1 and wins in the Big Ten championship meeting? Both teams could then have legitimate arguments for deserving the title with identical records and even head-to-head, yet Ohio State would be crowned Big Ten champions. Maybe Ohio State had one more loss during the regular season, but didn’t have to play a very strong Nebraska team that finished 8-1 in the same division as Michigan. Does that mean Ohio State is the deserving champion? Absolutely not.

In a perfect world, here’s how I think the Big Ten should be run once Nebraska is added in 2011:

First, don’t split into two divisions.* Keep the Big Ten a 12-team conference and institute an 11-game conference schedule with two non-conference games instead of four.

Non-conference games are fun when you have matchups like Michigan-Notre Dame or Ohio State-Miami, but do we really need each team to play three Mid-American Conference schools in one season? Let each Big Ten team play one cupcake to shake off the cobwebs and also one big non-conference game (like Michigan-Notre Dame), and then dive right into the conference schedule.

The Snow Bowl of 1950 never would have happened if the game were played mid-season

The Snow Bowl of 1950 never would have happened if the game were played mid-season

It would add one week to the regular season, which most likely will never happen since preserving academics is one of the arguments the NCAA has against a college football playoff, but having an 11-game conference schedule ensures that no team will have a competitive advantage because of an unbalanced schedule.

Currently, each Big Ten team gets to avoid two Big Ten opponents each year. Sometimes it works in Team A’s favor with both Michigan and Ohio State being left off the schedule, but Team B avoids Indiana and Illinois. Team A gets the advantage of having a chance to win the conference without even facing two of the best teams.

In 2002, Iowa and Ohio State shared the Big Ten title with 8-0 conference records, but they didn’t have to play each other during the season. Ohio State ended up winning the National Championship, but what if they had played Iowa during the conference slate and lost? Iowa may have gone to the title game.

Theoretically, that would be fixed with the Big Ten championship game, but with an unbalanced schedule, what if Iowa and Ohio State both finished 8-0, but Iowa didn’t have to play Nebraska, which finished 7-1, its only loss to Ohio State? Does Iowa absolutely deserve to play in the championship game? No, because they didn’t have to face Nebraska.

Or what if they were both in the same division, similar to what happens sometimes in the Big 12? The top two teams are often in the same division but can’t even meet in the championship game.

Secondly, the Big Ten should make the last week of the regular season rivalry weekend. Michigan-Ohio State, Penn State-Nebraska, Iowa-Wisconsin, Purdue-Indiana, Illinois-Northwestern, and Michigan State-Minnesota.

Michigan State and Minnesota may not be a rivalry, but the rest are and would make for a great finishing weekend and a de facto semi-final for the championship game.

It would keep the entire regular season interesting with the weight of the schedule at the end of the season when more is on the line. Of course there would be solid mid-season matchups like Michigan-Michigan State and Ohio State-Penn State, so the entire season leading up to the final weekend certainly wouldn’t be a letdown.

Some proponents of moving the game argue that other rivalries like Texas-Oklahoma or Florida-Florida State are played mid-season. And that’s one of the reasons they aren’t the greatest rivalry in college football. Too much is left to play for once the game has come and gone.

The Heisman can't be won in The Game mid-season

The Heisman can't be won in The Game mid-season

You need to go no further back than Oct. 11, 2008 when No. 5 Texas beat No. 1 Oklahoma 45-35 to advance to 6-0 (3-0 in the Big 12). Six weeks later, that matchup was all but forgotten when Oklahoma, which finished 7-1 in the conference, was sent to the Big 12 Championship game against 5-3 Missouri, leaving 7-1 Texas out of the picture.

That scenario was a result of the exact two things the Big Ten is on the verge of implementing: two divisions and having its cheif rivalry game between its two best teams played mid-season. If Texas-Oklahoma had been played in the final game, the winner would have gone to the championship game. Instead, even though they finished with identical records, the winner of the matchup didn’t even get a shot.

While that may be good for college football – for TV ratings, for controversy, for money – those aren’t the right reasons. Unfortunately, that’s the way the money-driven college football landscape is: a quick buck over decades of tradition.

In a perfect world, Michigan and Ohio State will always play in mid-November, when the air is chilled, snowflakes are falling, and Thanksgiving is looming. Why? Because that’s the way it has always been.

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*Currently the NCAA requires two divisions in order to play a conference championship game, so for this to happen, the rules would have to be changed.