Thursday, February 25, 2010

How did we get here?

Bo Schembechler died the day before Michigan's last meaningful football game to date. Bowl games are fun but ultimately meaningless. Appalachian State wasn't meaningful either, and neither was anything thereafter. Since then, Michigan hired Rich Rodriquez and stumbled through two of the program's worst seasons while it watches a proud and diverse fanbase splinter and divide.

I've spent the last few days mostly ignoring the media on the topic of NCAA allegations and Michigan. I read a few trusted and collected writers and begrudgingly decided to listen in on the Wilbon recoil via PTI--which was surprisingly rational--but otherwise, I've steered clear. I don't want to get angry anymore, and I know reading about the situation will do only that. Angry and disappointed seem to be the two emotions I've felt most often over the last two years, and I can openly admit that far too much of my emotional wellbeing is tied up in the success of Michigan athletics.

But as a fan, that's what we're supposed to do. Fans without any emotional investment are no fans at all, and college athletics brings that attachment more than any other sporting event. Because I'm part of Michigan, the tradition, the University. My name is forever associated with that school and that's not something that I neither regret nor take lightly. Michigan is a pretty essential part of my identity, to the point that even my brother, a fellow Michigan alum, gets annoyed at how often I talk about the school and its athletics.

But now we're all stuck looking for answers--some more maliciously than others. Why hasn't Rich Rodriguez been successful? Why has the fanbase splintered so significantly? What's wrong with our basketball and hockey teams? Logic has mostly been tossed out as is often the case with athletics. And anger, disappointment, and mistrust begin to take over many's feelings toward the program. The point is, I understand why Mark Snyder wants Rich Rodriguez out of Michigan. I don't agree with him, his methods, or his lack of self-control--because that's what this whole fiasco has been about--but I do understand him. He's looking for answers and believes those begin with the ousting of Rich Rodriguez. We should all be so lucky so as to having the backing of a major metropolitan newspaper.

The spread offense can't work in the Big Ten and Rich Rodriguez can't win at Michigan because he's not from the Schembechler coaching tree. These are not logical ideas and yet people are willing to accept them as reasonable because it's an answer. They're answers to why Michigan is struggling and how to make everything better. Because for a lot of people Lloyd Carr's Michigan wasn't broken or out of date, it was perfectly suitable for the contemporary college football environment. Eight to ten wins a season, a middling national storyline punctuated by a win or loss to Ohio State. This is Michigan and it doesn't need fixing or reworking. But Appalachian State doesn't just happen, and trying to logically explain it returns only that things were not quite as settled in the Carr camp as decendents and alums of the Schembechler school want to imagine. And then there's the divided former players. Morgan Trent and Braylon Edwards standing staunchly on one side of the line and everyone else cautiously and reasonably waiting in the middle. Very few have crossed the line to the Rodriguez camp.

The question is why, though. Why did so many people dislike Rich Rodriguez from the outset? Why have the former players so completely turned their backs on the program, and more importantly, the University which they represent? This is a concept I can't imagine. Michigan will forever be my University, regardless of what they do.

I started this blog as a place where I could talk about sports, primarily Michigan sports, and really go in depth into the ideas and people that matter to me. And yet I've spent most of my time angry and disappointed, lost amid game film, staring at coverages and techniques and wondering why we can't get it right. My way of coping with all of this is to post electronic music on Fridays rather than write up another column about how our once-hyped basketball team can't win games against Big Ten basement dwellers and doing statistical significance analysis of shooting percentages.

So I avoid the discussion of all of this because it's only going to get me angry. I'm already disappointed that it happened but it's over with. Just like 2008 and 2009, these are things that happened and now it's time to just go forward. Rationally.


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