Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How Deep [The Delusion] Went

My dad runs a soup kitchen in Detroit. Of the various good deeds that the kitchen does--handing out food, clothes, toys for children, furniture, etc.--they hand out turkeys during major holidays. Often, professional athletes will come by to hand out food to the needy. My dad said Joey Harrington was one of the nicest people he's met there, and he has a fairly derogatory story about Rip Hamilton's near no-show and subsequent skeeze, but that's for another day.

Rich Rodriguez spent significant time at the U of M Children's hospital, as did a number players from the team. Brock Mealer can nearly walk now because of Rodriguez's generosity. The now-annual Spring Game has become a massive fundraiser for Mott's Children's Hospital.

The NBA has The NBA Cares program. Professional football and hockey players find themselves doing charity work frequently. With stature, money, and influence comes significant responsibilities, one of which is to give back to the community. And given their position as role models--despite what Charles Barkley will have you believe--that means going to hospitals, soup kitchens, and helping the less fortunate. Jim Tressel, in this regard, is not remarkable. He's not unprecedented or special. He's someone doing what he's supposed to do with the influence and money he's earned.


I've recently spent a lot of time dedicated to reading and commenting on Eleven Warriors, and if anything stands out, it's the writers' utter lack of clarity and delusion about Tressel and the NCAA violations. Even in the face of widespread allegations, the site spent more time writing feel-good missives about why it might not be as bad as it seems and defending Tressel, rather than looking at the facts, investigating the situation, and checking precedent to discover where this might all end up. That's an editorial decision they've made, but their site is also significantly more successful than mine, so what does that say about me?

Regardless, Ramzy's latest might be the most ham-fisted defense I've read of Tressel. When all else fails, why not play to people's emotions to get them behind your argument? Ramzy waxes poetic about Tressel & Co. helping out at the hospital before the 2006 The Game, and tries to make you really understand just what a Good Guy Jim Tressel is. The problem is that frankly, no one could give two shits about whether or not he's a God-fearing man who gives to charity and helps the community. We care that he's a lying, deceitful, priggish coach that has cheated his way to major college football dominance.

Even Ramzy's defenses of Tressel admit the problem but shrug it off like, "Well no big deal because he says hi to children who idolize him":
He put his own standards ahead of the NCAA's.  He wrote The Winner's Manual and played by his own rules.  Tressel never had eminent domain over college football; the NCAA does.  It's not his game, it's theirs.  They have their own manual, and as far as they're concerned, it's the only manual.  Plausible deniability and willful ignorance have successfully maneuvered around that manual for years.  Tressel operated like this for years, up until last April.
As an Ohio State fan, you stop writing after that first sentence, right? Isn't that the whole point? That for years and years, Tressel has done things outside of the rules that everyone was playing under? Tressel doesn't even feign compliance with the NCAA. He has blatantly skirted any rule that would hinder his team's on-field success. Is that indicative of a quality, stand-up guy, even one that--as is likely mandated of him by the school--gives back to the community?
So now he's gone.  Ohio State's next head coach will not graduate more players at the same rate that Tressel did.  He won't send more two or three-star recruits to the NFL like Tressel did.  He won't positively alter the lives of more men than Tressel did.  He will not raise more money for more good causes than Tressel did.  He won't win more games than Tressel did.
This is the crux of Ramzy's argument though he doesn't realize it: Dude idolizes Tressel above all rational perspectives. To Ramzy, and much of the Ohio State community, Tressel is all there is. Years ago, it stopped being the Ohio State football team and became the Jim Tressel football team. Players, fans, and even the administration followed him blindly, and the loss of Tressel feels like the loss of the program. Because Tressel beat Michigan and because he brought them a national championship and because he frequently won the Big Ten; all of this adds to the Golden God legend of Jim Tressel, in spite of overwhelming evidence that all of those accolades were achieved with the assistance of widespread, massive rule breaking that he undertook because he felt more important than Ohio State or the NCAA.

Speaking of the next OSU coach,
He might police players more closely than Tressel did, but at what cost?  College kids shouldn't have bad choices removed from their list of options.  That might help with NCAA compliance, but it doesn't help anyone become a useful adult.  Players should be taught to make better decisions and face tougher consequences.
It's like Ramzy didn't learn anything from this entire situation. It's not the mistakes of student athletes that are problematic here, it's the wanton disregard for NCAA rules and the harboring of a culture that promotes lawlessness. Policing players is probably 50% of a coach's job (sad as that is to say). More to the point, Tressel did police players, he just had no moral compass. Despite arguments significantly to the contrary, it takes a special kind of malice to disregard your employer and governing body with the aggressiveness that Tressel did. Because while it's not proven, Tressel actively participated in the corrupt culture that has manifested in Columbus during his tenure.

The funny part is that Ramzy thinks it's all over, that the war has been lost and they're left to lick their wounds...
They turned over every rock in Columbus, Youngstown and everywhere in between to find every last molecule of dirt that they could to further bury a man who unleashed an avalanche on himself by committing what will go down as the sloppiest beguiling in Ohio history: A cover-up undone by he who started it.
...which, sorry, but it's about to get a lot worse. The Sports Illustrated article nary upturned a single stone. With the NCAA looking into Terrelle Pryor and his brazen car violations and the potential ring of illicit car deals that were being given out like candy to players and their families, the SI article did little more than scratch the surface. Hell, why do you think OSU is still withholding information shared between booster Ted Sarniak and Pryor? If you believe what the athletic department is slinging, then there's no rationalizing this situation for you.

Eleven Warriors has been of the impression, from the beginning, that this happens at every school and that the media is out to get Ohio State but, is it? Michigan was recently invaded by NCAA folk and found nothing but a few minutes of over practicing. There's a reason that Ohio State has self-reported significantly more secondary violations than any other school in the last 9 years: they commit far more than anyone else. More importantly, Ohio State has been the media darling for years and years. They were even able to convince the NCAA to allow Pryor & Co. to play in a game that they were ineligible for. This is not a conspiracy. This is shining a light on the dirtiest program in college football and the ousting of a corrupt head coach that had become the forebearer for a culture of cheating.

Hopefully Ohio State fans can come back to reality and start supporting a program and a coach that's not constructed on lies, cheating, and a disregard for the NCAA. Then again, this is pretty fun.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tressel and the bombshell that never dropped

The last few days have been anxious times. As Michigan fans, or simply fans of college football, news of Sports Illustrated's bombshell against Ohio State's football program and head coach Jim Tressel couldn't come sooner. When the article finally came out, though, it read more like a rehashing of what everyone already knew, and failed to make the real point that the magazine's investigation hinted at: That since 2002, there has been at least one widespread illegal benefits institution in Columbus that Jim Tressel knew about, in addition to hints of complementary ones that rounded out a lavish life of excess and disregard for NCAA rules by the players and coaches.

Regardless of the SI article, Tressel was a dead man walking at Ohio State. If it weren't the administration that did him in, the NCAA was likely to hit the coach with a show-cause penalty that would've effectively ended his career at Ohio State--that penalty is a guarantee now. With rumors beginning to swirl that SI was about to drop a bombshell on Tressel and the program, the board of trustees had to act swiftly and, in spite of the terminology the university is slinging about "resignation", fire Tressel. Make no mistake, his firing was inevitable.

In the face of the rumors and Tressel's resignation, SI's epic, program-implicating story reads like a whiff of massive proportions. Of the many words in the piece, only a few were of immediate importance to the NCAA. In particular, the article accused up to 28 players of receiving improper benefits since 2002, mostly consisting of the tattoos several of the team's current players are already serving punishment for. There were other allegations (that the players also smoked marijuana bought with traded, NCAA-violation goods), but much of the article was fluff or regurgitated information we already knew or had assumed.

There was a big song-and-dance to rehash all of the violations and improprieties of Tressel's career, dragging his name and reputation mercilessly through the mud; a reputation that was, admittedly, built on lies, ignorance, and cheating. But the cars OSU players are driving around campus? Just more hearsay, albeit believable hearsay. Pay for play schemes? Nowhere to be found. Implications of cooperation by the AD or Tressel? Nonexistent.

But in that last potential allegation was the meat of the SI article and where they missed their greatest opportunity. Authors George Dohrmann and David Epstein dug around and uncovered a bunch of information that most people had assumed already existed. But they also found connections between boosters, companies, Tressel, and the Ohio State program but never made the bold statement or argument that everyone was looking for: That Tressel knew about, encouraged, and harbored a culture of cheating and recklessly flaunting NCAA rules, including massive improper benefits by big-time program boosters. Instead, they basically assembled an NCAA report on violations with a few reporterly bits added in. But it's not SI's job to report to the NCAA. It's their job to find the facts and report a narrative. Their narrative is missing a climax, even if it's one that is pieced together through abounding circumstantial evidence and common sense.

The story's impact should not be disregarded. Despite it amounting to little more than "more players got tattoos", the article points out that, well, "more players got tattoos". This might seem minor in the face of all the other allegations facing the program--and those rumored to be included in the SI article--but there are now 22 new major NCAA infractions that have been levied against the school; violations that most familiar with the program claim a coach would be negligent to ignore. If all or many of them are viable cases against the program, this investigation more or less assures a "Lack of Institutional Control" penalty be added to the school's punishment.

Meanwhile, the NCAA is reportedly launching the real investigation, the one that looks at Terrelle Pryor and his plethora of new cars, that, in addition to the ongoing improper car deals that the NCAA is currently investigating. Unfortunately for SI's sake, the shock and awe everyone was anticipating seemed to dissipate with little in the way of new discoveries. But then again, this might not have been the final crescendo, rather a key scene in the decline of the Ohio State football program.


I have no other sentiments for the time being, just wooooooooooo.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dragged through the mud: The Ray Small edition

I don't know Ray Small. Not in a personal sense or any other. If you had said "Ray Small" to me three days ago, I'd recognize the name, but I wouldn't think blinding hatred and rage. Because I don't know who Ray Small is. The internet tells me he's a former Ohio State wide receiver that made 61 career catches and was frequently in Jim Tressel's dog house.

But Ray Small is a terrible person. I know that because every Ohio State fan, blogger, and player (current or former) is going out of their way to drag his name through the mud and make him sound like a pedophile that just happened to have the ball skills to suit up for the most successful college football program of the last decade.

I'd feel bad for him if he wasn't such a crappy human.

What did Small do to draw such ire? He told a newspaper that he committed the same NCAA infractions that the Tatgate crew did, and that most other Ohio State football players did the same. Nevermind that the NCAA has already caught five players taking part in this scandal, or that Small would have intimate knowledge of what he did while at Ohio State, or that the FBI and NCAA are currently investigating countless cases of misdeeds by a local car dealership which may or may not have sold Ohio State players cars at unreasonable prices, or the amount of circumstantial evidence that says Ray Small was just truthfully answering questions asked of him. He's full of shit, at least according to all of his former teammates:

There are a lot more where that comes from and Ramzy at Eleven Warriors took great satisfaction in compiling all of them. Which makes you wonder: What is this brotherhood that Ohio State fans and players keep clammoring about and why is it so pissy? You might remember Kirk Herbstreit who went through a similar onslaught just a few months ago after criticizing how Tressel runs the program. It appears that the undying bond of Ohio State football players is unbreakable, at least until you stop falling in line behind Jim Tressel. But isn't that what got the school in this predicament in the first place?

This reminds me of when Toney Clemons spoke to the Detroit Free Press about Practicegate. A similar situation: a "disgruntled" player speaks about the improprieties of his former program. Except Clemons left Michigan in search of greener pastures, and even he rescinded his comments, saying they were taken out of context. Small, despite his low stature on the Tressel Hierarchy stuck with the program throughout his college career. Small isn't Clemons, obviously, but sorry if I find trouble seeing the Disgruntled Pissy Former Player angle that the Ohio State internets are selling like Girl Scout Cookies.

But maybe he is a bad dude. Maybe he had a bone to pick and he's lying through his teeth. It's a quality you might expect from someone coming out of Tressel's program. Then again, I tend to think that people are mostly trustworthy, and if we've learned anything over the last few months, it's that Ohio State football players always tell the truth on the internet.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Red Wings and NHL playoff overtime performance

Not Michigan-related, but, you know, it's May 5.
So after yet another overtime loss, the Red Wings find themselves in a 0-3 hole to the nemesis San Jose Sharks. Last night's game was not unlike any of the other overtime losses the team has suffered in the last decade, but it was enough to finally make me ask, Just how bad are the Red Wings in playoff overtime games? So I decided to do a little digging and see whether or not my beliefs (that the Wings simply cannot get it done in overtime) actually align with reality.

NHL.com has the result of every game dating back to the 2003-2004 season*. I was hoping to look at games beginning in 2000, but only to make numbers round and aesthetically pleasing. The following are individual teams' overtime record by year, followed by their composite record over the time span.

2003-2004 2005-2006 2006-2007 2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011 Totals
2-1 4-1
0-1 7-4
Boston 2-0

1-1 1-1 2-1 4-0 10-3
5-1 1-3

0-1 1-1 7-6
Calgary 5-2 1-1 0-1




3-2 3-1 1-1 7-4
Colorado 3-1 3-1
Dallas 1-1 0-3 1-2 3-1

Detroit 0-2 1-1 2-2 1-1 2-2 0-1 0-2 6-11

Los Angeles

1-1 0-3 1-4


Montreal 0-3 1-2
1-1 0-3 4-10

0-1 0-1
0-1 2-1 2-4
New Jersey
0-1 2-0 1-0 1-1 0-1
NY Islanders 0-1

NY Rangers

1-1 0-2

0-1 1-4
Ottowa 1-0 0-3 2-1

Philadelphia 2-0 0-1
2-1 0-1 3-2 1-2 8-7

2-0 2-2 1-1 1-0 6-3
San Jose 1-3 0-1 1-1 1-3 1-0 3-2 5-0 12-10
St. Louis 0-1


Tampa Bay 3-2

1-1 4-4
Toronto 0-2

Vancouver 1-1
1-1 1-1 2-2 8-8
Washington 0-2 1-2 1-1 2-1 4-6

So... yes, the Red Wings are very bad in overtime playoff games. The team is 6-11 over the time period, which is a .353 winning percentage. During the regular season over that time period, the Wings are winning at a .613 clip.

Other observations:
  • The Sharks have played in more playoff overtime games (22) than any other team. The next closest is the Wings with 17. Unfortunately, the Sharks are 12-10 and the Wings record is... what it is. Then again, heading into this postseason, the Sharks were 7-10 in such playoff OT games.
  • With the exception of Nashville (2-4) the Wings have the worst playoff overtime winning percentage of any team that has played in more than 5 playoff OT games. The gut wrenching feeling you get every time the Wings go to OT is a valid one.
  • Boston has the best playoff OT record of any team that has played more than 5 games, clocking in at a scorching 10-3.
  • As you can tell (and as you might expect), most teams hover around the .500 area.
  • Also as you may have suspected, the Stanley Cup winner, at worst, holds its own: 2010 Blackhawks (3-1), 2009 Penguins (2-2), 2008 Red Wings (1-1), 2007 Ducks (4-1), 2006 Hurricanes (4-3), and 2004 Lightning (3-2)
The question is whether or not specific play styles lead toward a better or worse OT record, but that's something I don't have the time or resources to investigate. In any case, you can feel safe saying that the Wings are an awful playoff overtime team, especially when you take into account their record, seeding, and likely the lesser competition they're playing in those games.

*The 2004-2005 season never happened because of the NHL lockout.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Darius Morris to enter the NBA draft

In spite of Michigan fans' wishes and scout near-consensus that Darius Morris should spend another year in college, the Wolverine's best player will be headed to the NBA draft and forgoing his final two years at Michigan. First things first: Best of luck to Morris in the NBA. It became clear about halfway through his freshman year that Morris was a special player with NBA-caliber talent. We all knew this day was coming, we just hoped it would come 365 days from now.

To that end, Morris emphatically did things the right way with regard to the process. There wasn't a rift between he and Beilein (or at least one that was ever made public), and his exit was both frugal and professional. He thanked the program, spoke highly of everyone at Michigan, and exited in the fashion in keeping with his on-court persona and talent. Moreover, Morris went about this the right way insofar as retaining his eligibility and maintaining the possibility to return to Michigan. In the end, he made the decision that he thought was best for him.

But was that the right decision? Honestly, I'm inclined to say yes, for a number of different reasons. The first is simple: make that money while you can. If we've learned anything in the last few years, it's that professional sports careers can crumble at the drop of a dime: a bad fall, twist of an ankle, an unfortunate car accident, etc. Morris is a player who has likely aspired to play in the NBA for most of his life and has done all the right things to assure that happens. He deserves to play in the NBA and deserves whatever spoils come his way because of it. It's smart to get in while he can, start making money, and hope that turns into a long and fruitful professional career. Don't fault him for that.

But the difference in money between being a late-first-round/early-second-round selection and a lottery pick--which is where Morris is projected to go, and where scouts think he has a chance to land if he returns to Michigan, respectively--is significant, you say. Sure, but confidence that he'll find himself drafted in that range is probably enough to force his hand. The primary knock against Morris is his shooting ability. Whether or not he's able to improve his shooting over the course of the next season is speculative, and with a solid draft projection in a weak draft class, it's tough to convince anyone to return to college on the off chance that he'll rise a few spots in the draft.

I'm split on what this means for Michigan in the long run though. Obviously the on-court production will suffer next year, but this may be a huge boost for recruiting. One if the knocks against Beilein, in the minds of recruits, is that he can't get them to the League. If Morris goes in the first round, that idea should be thoroughly debunked. Because the D-league Rookie of the Yearing that DeShawn Sims did and the spot minutes Manny Harris saw for the woeful Cavaliers does little to dissuade recruits of this notion. Then again, recruits want success at the college level as much as they want to get to the pros, and if Morris' exit does as much harm as it potentially could, recruits won't even both giving Michigan a look.

Regardless, best of luck to Darius in the draft and the NBA. He's a player whose progress I'll be following intently.