Monday, March 28, 2011

Grab bag for "silly season."

For college football and basketball fans, it's now time for the equivalent of NASCAR'S "silly season." That's when there are no actual events, but owners and drivers move around, and the rumors run rampant. In college sports, the months from April through August are sorta like that. Here are a few topics for discussion.
Doom for Sparty?
Tom Izzo can't be happy with the way this season went. His team was ranked the second best in college basketball going into this season, but they were swept by Michigan, and lost their first game in the NCAA tournament to UCLA, proving that they didn't really belong there and that their selection was a "courtesy berth," based on coaching politics and past performance.
Izzo now knows that his Cavalier Indulgence affected the Spartans more than he possibly thought it would. It was obvious to anyone who wanted to watch that his team tuned him out. Tom Izzo, whose claim to fame is his ability to get "Spartan effort" out of his Spartans, watched his team go through the motions as though they didn't give a shit for 35 minutes every game, and try to turn on the effort switch the last five minutes. Sometimes it worked, but it didn't work enough.
Almost everything I have predicted for Izzo, starting last June or so, has either happened or been surpassed. Discipline problems, "losing the locker room," less victories, an early exit from the NCAA, attrition, and Michigan starting to close the gap between the two programs were all predictions that came true. There is really only one prediction left: Izzo to the NBA this season.
When it comes to Sparty, Michigan is in a win/win position right now. If Izzo stays, it will probably take him the same four years to rebuild his program in the wake of his Cavalier Indulgence that it did for Billy Donovan to rebuild the Florida Gators after his "Magic Moment." That, of course, is if Izzo can handle the losing. If he can't, we might see a glorious meltdown that does Woody Hayes proud. If Izzo leaves, it will still take four years to rebuild the program.
Either way, Michigan is poised to regain the same position it had for about 20 years prior to Izzo's ascension: dominant instate program. Life is good.
Jim Tressel is in trouble
At this point, the question isn't whether or not Jim Tressel will be fired from TSIO, it's when he will be fired and whether they will call it a "retirement" or a firing. Tressel was lucky that he never paid for his violations at YSU, and was actually rewarded with the TSIO job when he should have been kicked out of the profession.
He got lucky again when somebody got to Maurice Clarett and intimidated him to change his story when NCAA investigators made it to Columbus. The Scarlet Wall has protected him for a long time, but there are cracks in the wall and his luck is running out.
Even TSIO fans know that Tressel is Toast. In fact, the only two people in the football universe who haven't figured it out seem to be Gene Smith and Gordon Gee. The only question now is "who is going to be the new coach?"
I would like to see Mark Dantonio get the job. First, it would throw MSU into total disarray. Second, Dantonio hates Michigan enough to keep the rivalry interesting, but isn't really a good enough coach to dominate the rivalry.
There are two nightmare scenarios, though. The first is that they could talk Urban Meyer out of "retirement." Meyer's preference for the TSIO, Michigan, and Notre Dame jobs over all in college football aren't a secret. I would imagine that someone in the TSIO office has already made exploratory contact with his agent.
If you are a Michigan fan, you do not want to see Meyer at TSIO. If he coaches there, the same maggots who screamed "the spread won't work in the Big Ten" and whined until RR was run out of town will be bitching because Michigan "can't solve Urban Meyer's spread." This brings to mind the other nightmare scenario.
Rich Rodriguez is available and TSIO needs another coach soon.
Stranger things have happened. RR got shit on from almost the moment he got into town. Lloyd Carr and his Carr-tel sabotaged the program from within at every turn. Carr turned from consummate Michigan Man into a petty, jealous old man who put his personal agenda over the well-being of "his" school.
I would be willing to bet my bottom dollar that Carr gave Michael Rosenberg the information that would eventually turn into "Practice-gate." Carr had this information because it was he who had originally come up with the incorrect interpretation of the rule and implemented the program in the first place.  You certainly wouldn't know it from listening to David Brandon, though.  Then, of course, there were the charges that RR didn't know anything about "Michigan tradition" or the rivalry with TSIO.
The Carr-tel made sure to tell everyone they knew that "Rich Rodriguez is not a Michigan Man." Fielding Yost was from WV. Bo Schembechler was from OH. Brady Hoke is from OH. The were all "Michigan men." But Rich Rodriguez was "not a Michigan man" because he was from WV? RR heard more about Michigan tradition and "the rivalry" in his three years at Michigan than most people hear in a lifetime. You can rest assured that RR knows all about "the rivlarly."
And you can rest assured that RR has more reason to be utterly and profoundly pissed off at the University of Michigan than Lloyd Carr ever did to assassinate RR's character. If I was RR, my agent would already have contacted TSIO for exploratory discussions. RR wasn't allowed to finish what he started at Michigan, but he could "finish" it if he takes the TSIO job.
There are about ten coaches you don't want to see with the TSIO job. AFAIC, RR is number two on the list, only to Urban Meyer. Off the top of my head, those I would most fear at TSIO would be both Kellys, Patterson, Peterson, Mullen, and the two I mentioned already. Let's hope Saint Dantonio gets his "Dream Job" in a month or two.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Fab Five documentary

By now, everyone who cares knows about the Fab Five documentary on ESPN, produced by Jalen Rose. This was one of the most starkly honest documentaries I have seen in the sports world. With honesty, of course, comes controversy.

Jalen Rose said in the documentary that, at the time, he hated Duke because Duke didn't recruit "his" people. He felt that they recruited Uncle Toms, and cited Grant Hill's family as an example. Predictably, the MSM and most of the blogosphere has gone bonkers. Columnists with superficial knowledege and questionable attitudes about race treated the statements as though he still felt that way.

Many columnists wrote variattions of "let it go, Jalen." But they are missing one huge point:

Jalen didn't say he feels that way now. He said he felt that way then. The Fab Five were freshmen. They were 18 years old. I don't know about you, but I have changed a lot since I was that age. I still have the same social consciousness in a lot of ways, but the judgementalism and anger have certainly been diminished.

I am pretty sure that anyone who slammed Jalen for being honest about how he felt when he was 18 would be utterly embarassed if he were held responsible for his opinions and actions at that age.

There are a lot of people who need to "let it go," but Jalen Rose isn't one of them.

It's NCAA Time...

It's NCAA time, and Michigan got one of the worst seeds a decent team can get in the tournament: an eight. This means that if they beat Tennessee, they have to face number one seed Duke in their second game. I like what Michigan did this year, and I am as big of a fan as anyone. But they are not beating Duke.

Sure, it's possible. Duke could play their very worst and Michigan could play their very best. And I could win powerball tonight, too. That doesn't mean it is going to happen. I would rate Michigan's chances of beating Duke as only slightly better than mine of winning Powerball.

As expected, Michigan State got their "courtesy bid," but at least the committee didn't do them any favors. They did get to go to Florida, but if they win their first game against UCLA, they will have to play a de facto road game against Florida in Tampa. This is probably even more of a disadvantage than playing it at the O' Connell Center, because many of the Gator fans with tickets don't get to see a lot of Florida games, so they will be especially loud for a special occasion.

As for the tournament itself, I amost don't care who wins, as long as it isn't MSU or OSU. Michigan has no chance. Eighteen out of the last twenty years, a one or two-seed has won. I'll take the Gators. They have had no hype this year, but Billy Donovan remembers how to take a team to victory. The fact that I live in Florida, of course, has nothing to do with it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A World of Hurt

As Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers said in a song,
It's gonna be a world of hurt..."

Is the axe finally going to fall in Columbus? Will it dismantle the Scarlet Wall of Silence that has enabled Ohio State to successfully cover up the cesspool of violations that has been a hallmark of their program for the entire Tressel era, if not before?

Make no mistake about it: Jim Tressel is a dirty coach. He can write books about God all he wants, but Jim Tressel has never met an NCAA rule he likes. His current denial of any wrongdoing is so ludicrous that I am half expecting him to use the defense that God told him to break all of those rules because they weren't "fair."

Sorry, folks, but Jim Tressel writing a book about God is like Charlie Sheen writing a book about moderation.

If Jim Tressel wants to prove that his book wasn't written by a hypocrite, and that he actually lives by the spirituality he espouses, then he should resign immediately. He should apologize to everyone at OSU, everyone in the Big Ten, and everyone in the NCAA for chronic cheating.

Tressel had to stop a tour for his newest book, "Life Promises for Success: Promises from God on Achieving Your Best," to address allegations of not only cheating, but lying to cover it up. As a Michigan fan, I would be laughing at this if it wasn't so sad. Jim Tressel has not only cheated the NCAA, but he has cheated everyone who has ever bought one of his Christian books and looked to him as a role model.

While Tressel is apologizing, he owes one to everyone who ever bought one of his books, too. If Tressel is truly the Christian he says he is, he will come clean and ask for forgiveness. One of the main tenets of the Christian faith is forgiveness. Let's see if Jim Tressel can put his money where his mouth is.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to mention here that I am not known as a "bible-thumper," nor do I believe that constant public declarations of faith are neccessary in one's relationship with God. I don't really espouse any faith in particular, but I respect all of them in general. I see religions as cookie cutters, and really don't think God cares what his cookies look like, as long as they taste like faith.

In any faith, though, from Christian to Muslim to Buddhist to Hindu to Agnosticism, there cannot be forgiveness unless there is a mea culpa first. The problem I have with Tressel is not his faith, but the fact that he is making money off of a faith whose rules he tramples behind the scenes. This is not an issue of religion; it is an issue of hypocrisy.

Jim Tressel has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. How he reacts to it should be his own business, but it is more than that. Tressel makes a very good living portraying an image as a role model. He owes it to anyone who ever believed him to come clean, ask for forgiveness, and actually be the role model he has pretended to be for all of these years.

This post opened with the Drive By Truckers, and it will close with Bob Marley:

"Some say it's just a part of it, we've got to fulfill the book..."

It's time for Jim Tressel to either stop writing books or start fulfilling them. And fulfillment starts with either resignation or termination for Jim Tressel and NCAA probation for the Ohio State University.

Then, maybe someday Jim Tressel and OSU's world of hurt will become a redemption song.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sudden Change. Has the torch been passed?

In the wake of another win for the University of Michigan over Michigan State, thus giving Michigan their first "sweep" since 1997, a lot of questions have been raised in both A2 and EL. The games may be over, but the debate has just begun.

The main thing on everyone's mind seems to be whether or not the torch has indeed been passed, or of Michigan's sweep was an aberration, a product of luck, or a one-year wonder. The answers aren't quite that easy, nor are they etched in stone, but some pretty strong conclusions can be drawn.

1. It's going to get worse for MSU before it gets better.

They lose Lucas and Summers. They may very well lose Tom Izzo. Even if they don't, Izzo has lost the locker room, and will have to work extremely hard to get it back.

2. It's only going to get better for Michigan.

Unless a player makes an ill-advised decision to try the NBA draft, Michigan will return all of their players. Michigan is an extremely young team that overachieved this year, but it wasn't the kind of overachievement that can't be revisited. Michigan simply grew and matured faster than anyone expected them to. And they have a lot more growth in their future.

3. Sudden change.

It's funny that the same Spartan fanbase that declared MSU to have a superior football program because they caught Michigan in a rebuilding cycle are using the same arguments they refuted when Michigan beats them twice in basketball.

At first glance, I am guilty of that myself on my side of the fence, but I have always used tradition and regression to the mean as my main arguments. Michigan is 93-71 against MSU in their basketball series. Even though they had to vacate the Ed Martin years, and even though Tom Izzo has had a great run against them, Michigan has still defeated MSU twenty-two more times than MSU has defeated Michigan.

Consequently, I see the Izzo era as a statistical aberration. As we know, statistical aberrations usually correct themselves over a longer period of time. In football, the same argument holds true. Michigan is 67-30-5 against MSU. So, once again, I see Dantonio's dominance as an aberration that will soon correct itself.

What does this have to do with sudden change? Everything. MSU fans refuse to believe that the programs can go in opposite directions so quickly, but I see it as a simple return to the norm. Michigan's product is now superior to MSU's on the court, and should be even more superior in relation to MSU's product next season. The only things lagging will be public perception and recruiting. Which takes me to the next point:

4. MSU is in severe crisis mode.

In one of the eastern languages, I believe Chinese, it is often quoted that the character which denotes crisis contains both danger and opportunity. There is plenty of both in EL right now, and it all centers around Tom Izzo. There are some possible scenarios here: let's see how it could go.

Scenario A: Tom Izzo stays and rebuilds, and his kids listen to him again.

I see this as the least likely of all possible scenarios, but if it does happen, MSU is still looking two years down the road before they return to being an elite program again. Izzo has a lot of bridges to rebuild. It's one thing to say "Spartan for life," but it's another altogether to demonstrate it with his actions. As of now, all Izzo has demonstrated is the willingness to listen to offers from the NBA.

If, however, he gets Nix, Roe, and Green back and fully "bought in," he has a decent nucleus around which to build a team. But it probably won't be enough to beat Michigan next year, and both Green and Roe will have exhausted their eligibility by the following season. This could mean that, even in a best-case secnario, it will take MSU three years to rebuild to Final Four level.

Scenario B: Izzo stays but his players don't buy in.

What happens if Nix, Roe, and Green all leave early? Izzo is going to have to rebuild with players who will play the way he wants them to. It will take the same three years, and he may lose a few of the younger players from this team if he feels the older players have "contaminated" them.

Also, one has to ask how this will affect recruiting. It certainly can't be a positive.

Scenario C: Tom Gores buys the Pistons, offers Izzo the HC job, and he takes it.

I see this as the most likely option. If he doesn't end up in Detroit, someone else will make him a good offer. Izzo has to know that the next two or three years will require a lot of hard work, and they won't help his market value any. Izzo's peak market value was last year. If he gets lucky, Gores will ignore this year and offer him $6 million a year, figuring he'll make it back just from the publicity Izzo will generate. Any NBA offer, though, will be for more than MSU can pay him or even wants to pay him after last summer and this season.

If this happens, all hell breaks loose in EL. They can do a "Michigan Football" and hire Izzo disciple Stan Heath, even though his coaching record at USF is abysmal, but even an "inside hire" won't be able to save the next recruiting class. Then, MSU is looking at four years before they are good again.

5. Michigan stands to gain immensely in recruiting.

This is the biggest battleground of all. Michigan is already starting to get decent players. Izzo no longer gets everyone he offers by simply telling recruits and their parents that Michigan is a "dirty program." The uncertainty at MSU and the feeling that JB is building a program the right way at Michigan may be enough to sway recruits to sign with the maize and blue.

Ever since Izzo was handed the ultimate recruiting tool by the Ed Martin Fiasco, he has been able to get whoever he wants in the state of Michigan. Not only could he cite the Fiasco, but he could also cite Michigan's shoddy practice facilities and the aging Crisler Arena. That is no longer the case. Michigan is rebuilding its facilities and image, and both jobs are moving along quite nicely.

Soon, a five star player will choose the maize and blue. Once that happens, elite recruits will once again see Michigan as a "destination school." And Michigan's gain will be MSU's loss.

6. You meet the same people on the way down that you do on the way up.

Sparty has been extremely arrogant when they have been on top. Soon, though, recruits, fans, and MSM alike will wonder what they have to be arrogant about now. Izzo has gotten by with the "assumed close" with HS players and coaches for a long time. Now, they are going to demand more. Can Tom Izzo subjugate his ego enough to realize that the dynamic has changed, or will he continue to recruit as though MSU still has carte blanche in Michigan? Will a new coach have to pay the price for Sparty Arrogance while creating his own dynamic?

Tom Izzo built his empire on negativity. He took advantage of the Ed Martin Fiasco and has been using it as his main instate recruiting tool for ten years now. It's like the recent TMac debate. TMac is presently seen as having been so talented that that he failed to put in the neccessary "10,000 hours of repitition" to improve his game.

Did Tom Izzo make the same mistake in recruiting? Did he fail to develop the neccessary fundamentals because he had talent-rich Michigan inadvertently handed to him by Ed Martin? Is this now a systemic problem at MSU?

I guess we'll find out in a few years.

My perception, though, is that Michigan is already the best program in the state, and that it will become obvious to many more by the end of next season. I fully believe that it will get much better for Michigan, and much worse for MSU.