Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A note on transfers

When I was a junior in high school, on the first day of school, I got a note in homeroom that requested my presence in one of the counselor's offices. This wasn't my academic counselor, but he was the head coach of the hockey team. The previous year, I had played junior varsity hockey and was essentially on the varsity scout team: I would practice with the varsity squad and was held on retainer lest anything tragic happen to any of the varsity players. I sat down in his office and he made small talk before getting to the real issue, "So we've got a new season coming up now. I presume you'll be playing for us this year?" This was an abrupt invitation to play for the varsity hockey team but my mind had already been made up. "Actually, I think I'm just going to play on a club team out of Dearborn," I told him.

The rationale behind my decision was simple enough: aside from some small sense of vengeance I felt for various friends who the coach had strung along, I knew that I only had two more years of playing organized hockey. If I played varsity for an admittedly sub-par program, it very easily could have ended with an uninspiring recruiting process, followed by passing on a Michigan education in favor of playing four years of college hockey at a small school and still not making it to the pros (shock). When I told my parents the story that night at the dinner table, I told them basically the above, but added that I just didn't feel like working that hard (it's easier to play club hockey where you practice twice a week and never see a weight room) in my final two years. They responded that I shouldn't have said that; it reflected poorly on me. Regardless, this was my reasoning.

Why is any of this important? With the news that Vlad Emilien is leaving Michigan, I'm left contemplating the recent rash of transfers, and more alarmingly, what seem to be other obvious flight risks. I don't know why Emlilien left. Or why Turner or the various others have fled the program. Maybe it's a lack of playing time or just not the right fit. I don't want to project anything on these players. But it seems problematic that they keep leaving. Is it how Rodriguez coaches? Is it a different brand of player that he's recruiting?

Sadly, these aren't questions that I can answer, and they're probably different for each player. The most logical answer is probably that they aren't getting the kind of playing time they think they deserve. But for a program and coach that prides itself on competition and the ability to earn your place on the team, it seems hard to believe that these players are leaving solely because they're not playing. Is Barwis' strength program too difficult to endure when you're relegated behind a few walk ons on the depth chart? Does Rodriquez take out personal gripes against players by sticking them on the bench despite more logical choices (see: Tate sitting against UConn as Devin Gardner frustratingly burns a redshirt).

Whatever the issue, it's tough not to look at Michigan's roster right now and turn the panic level to EXTREME on a few other players not getting the kind of playing time you might expect, most notably: Tate (obviously) and Will Campbell. Panic about others seems misplaced right now, but it's hard not to look over your shoulder for the next sign of discontent.

On a more emotional level, it's difficult not get get upset with the players themselves. If it really is a lack of playing time, you have to ask yourself what makes true sophomores or redshirt freshmen feel entitled to early playing time. It may have been something Rodriquez promised them in the recruiting process; it wouldn't surprise me if Rodriguez, looking at the harrowing secondary depth chart, told Emilien and Turner they'd be on the field early, only to settle for lesser recruits/walk ons who were better prepared at the time. If that's the case, you can only hope that this is a self-remedying problem that will disappear when Michigan's depth is a less terrifying, which isn't going to happen with constant transfers.

Whatever the reasoning, this appears to be a very real problem and one that Rodriguez has brought with him. At this point, you can't place the blame on a few players who have flaked out after being recruited or blame Lloyd Carr recruits that got more than they signed up for. We now once again have to pray for health, which after the UConn game was problematic, and hope that somehow, Michigan's piecemeal defense manages to scrape through the year.


Andrew Kahn said...

Completely agree. If Michigan continues to struggle under RR, the transfers will be a big reason. The most frustrating part is, as you write, "these aren't questions that I can answer." All we can go on is speculation.

But the numbers don't lie, and RR's transfer rate seems to be a lot higher than Carr's. Troubling indeed.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with anything you've written, but a wider scan for context may be appropriate, to see if transferring is particular to Michigan or an NCAA-wide phenomenon. These are unusual times - with dynamics like increasing network monies and highly paid coaches, the collegiate environment is becoming business-fluid.

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