31 July 2008

Channeling the Crazy Spirit of John L. Smith

Mark Dantonio Plays Russian Roulette With the Karma Gods

Any tried and true Michigan State Spartan football fan remembers the bad old days of John L. Smith. The much hyped former Louisville coach brought in a spirit of mountain climbing toughness to East Lansing and made a boatload of coaching mistakes. One of Smith's most egregious errors was his decision to play 4 star recruit quarterback Drew Stanton on special teams in a bowl game, a decision which of course ended up with Stanton horribly injuring his knee. Stanton was a pro-style quarterback who should have been practicing his 5 step drops and taking snaps, but Smith wanted to institute toughness in his team. Similar coaching missteps helped land Smith a pink slip out of East Lansing.

Now Coach Mark Dantonio, who as by all accounts done things the right way every since coming to Michigan State, is tempting fate by seriously discussing the possibility of playing All-World halfback Javon Ringer on Special Teams as a kick returner. And although a stud running back holds up better on special teams than a drop back QB, here is some advice for Coach Dantonio:

Please God, don't put your All-Big 10 halfback on the kick return unit. 1) Unless he is the next Devin Hester, there won't be a marked difference between Ringer and the next guy. 2) You're in perfect position to beat Michigan and possibly pull a 10 win season off. A veteran QB leads the offense and the defense should be solid. The only thing that could derail you instantly is, of course, injuries. And God knows the last thing you want to see is Ringer getting crackback blocked to the turf by some 250 lb special teams demon running full speed down the field. 3) You have made excellent decisions at every turn in East Lansing: you brought in solid players at the line positions and you didn't spout off to the media or make wild predictions...you even pulled an Elite 11 quarterback to headline your next recruiting class. Take a lesson from the missteps of John L's past and leave Ringer off the field for one extra play.

Happy August!

Although it's still 5 hours away from the States, this Brit welcomes you to the month of August, and the triumphant return of college football.

In 28 days we'll replace our Chablis with draught-beer, our Polos with oversized mesh jerseys, and our summer sensibilities with super-egos.

Here's to sauce-drenched fingers, sun tan hangovers, and dry throats.

To celebrate, here's the latest update to the ESPN/ABC Network Schedule.

27 July 2008

Part 1: Big 10 Coaching Inquiries

What if you could ask a Big 10 head coach anything you wanted?

The Rivalry Esq. missed Media Day (weren't invited), but that didn't stop us from scribbling on the legal pads. Suffice it to say, the big guys would have faced some serious cross-examining
if one of us wasn't in England all summer.

For the sake of our dignities as pseudo journalists we've split the inquisition into two parts: serious football strategy and satire, because lets be honest, lampooning Big 10 head coaches isn't exactly difficult this year.


Jim Tressel

Chris Wells carried the ball 39 times against Michigan for 222 total yards. Against LSU, he saw only half that many touches (20). His falloff in performance has been pointed to as the reason for the reduced reliance on the ground game in the Championship: he gained 119 yards off his first 10 carries, and only 30 the second 10. I think you would agree that LSU was successful outsourcing your offensive line in the second half. Simply put there weren't openings, and a power back like Beanie is significantly less effective when he has to go to the outside. What changes are you making in 2008 to the offensive line sets to ensure better opportunities for the running backs?

WR Ray Small was supposed to have a breakout season last year. He finished with a disappointing 20 receptions for 267 yards. What opportunities will he be given in 2008 to step up and shoulder some of the load from Hartline and Robiskie?

Ron Zook

Juice Williams is a great runner, but his passing accuracy was abysmal last year. How did you and your Offensive Coordinator work with him this year to make his passing more precise?

Bret Bielema

You've seen the trouble certain Big 10 opponents have had defending tight end audibles. How do you plan to use what some consider to be the best tight end tandem in the nation in Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham to diversify your offense?

It's been reported that 26 players missed some portion of spring ball due to injuries. How does that affect your efforts to establish consistency?

"What if you could ask a Big 10 Head Coach anything you wanted?"

Tim Brewster

You've had some exciting personnel changes in the off season -- perhaps most notably picking up Ted Roof as defensive coordinator. What will he bring to a squad that was last in the nation in total defense last year?

Kirk Ferentz

Much has been made of the Satterfield scandal and the university's handling of it. How have you instilled in your team a focus on football admist the clutter?

Rich Rodriguez

Michigan's returning starters are ill-suited for a spread running offense. How have you tweaked the West Virginia Spread (dive option + pitch option + QB run) to accommodate the players you inherited?

Mark Dantonio

You lost two monster playmakers to the NFL in Jehuu Caulcrick and Devin Thomas. These two fit your run-based offense perfectly, Caulcrick as the short yardage pounder and Thomas as the sticky hands home run threat who provided a change of pace. Has anyone stepped up, like Andre Anderson or Mark Dell, to take over the vacated roles?

Pat Fitzgerald

The 2005 offense put up an obscene amounts of yardage and ran the shotgun spread beautifully. What is the key in channeling that teams offensive success?

Joe Paterno

Are you open to playing two quarterbacks interchangeably, considering Daryll Clark (athlete) and Pat Devlin (passer) bring different strengths to the field?

Bill Lynch

The nations leader in sacks last year, Greg Middleton, anchors your defense. He is sure to face double teams and tight end chips this year. How will you make teams pay for spending extra time on this sackmaster?

No one is giving you a chance in hell in playing a "13th game," the term Coach Terry Hoeppner coined. What do you tell your team to inspire them to overcome these pessimistic predictions?

Joe Tiller

The lack of a strong run game has been the biggest knock on your offense. What steps are you taking to make teams respect your ability to rush the football?

(Stay tuned for Part 2)

25 July 2008

Columbus. Ann Arbor. Can either be Title Town?

It's not often that we at The Rivalry, Esq. choose to patronize the publicity vehicles ESPN.com invents on a yearly basis to stimulate the culture of off-season. I've been politely ignoring their most recent brainchild -- a comprehensive search to identify Title Town, USA -- since the contest was announced on Sports Center in the spring.

But, after it was made clear that the honor would be both vertically and horizontally integrated, extending into all levels and facets of athletics, I was intrigued. A Democratic process that pits the most polished professional sports cities against the country Friday night lights crowd -- capstoned by a traveling interview committee broadcasting from each locale is hard to pass up.

"I'm surprised, slightly humored, and fully anticipating Graham's outrage at the fact that his Wolverines are only given credit for 3 National Titles (the school claims 10), while the Buckeyes get 7 (incidentally the exact number the school claims)."

You've got to hand it to ESPN, they've put their money where their mouth is. The research, and production value of each edition is laudable, making the search (and the ultimate selection) at least as relevant as the MTV Music Video Awards.

So, in honor of Monday's grand finale, here are the broadcasts that originally aired live from two places close to our hearts: Columbus and Ann Arbor.

If the raw esteem of watching these doesn't absolutely rivet you, you might have accidentally clicked on Carson Palmers' 2007 Post-Season Highlight reel.

A few first blush observations:

1. I'm impressed that ESPN diversified the Columbus sports-scape by firmly exploring our link to Jack Nicklaus and Jesse Owens.

2. I'm surprised, slightly humored, and fully anticipating Graham's outrage at the fact that his Wolverines are only given credit for 3 National Titles in football (the school claims 10), while the Buckeyes get 7 (incidentally the exact number Ohio State claims).

So, what do you think? Do either Columbus or Ann Arbor deserve the nod?

23 July 2008

Is Carson Palmer Nuts?

Carson Palmer doesn't like Ohio State.

This week the USC alum went on the offensive during a scheduled radio appearance with KLAC Los Angeles.

"I cannot stand the Buckeyes," said the outspoken Heisman winner, "...having to live in Ohio and hear those people talk about their team...drives me absolutely nuts." (USA Today has the full transcript.)

Carson's shrink must have been on vacation in Bermuda. His press relations advisor must have been out of town. How else do you explain the errant pathological tragedy of a hero who shoots himself in the foot?

"You've got to stay faithful to the Gangsta scene. Try instead, 'Dog we're gonna go pop a cap in yo ass.' Then go pee on yourself at a humanitarian protest and order a Vegan dinner for your fake-boobed girlfriend."

Granted, I have a Karmic view of college football. I hold certain truths to be self-evident. Namely you:

1. Never criticize a marquis opponent. [I made this mistake before the 2006 National Championship Game -- heckling Florida fans that 1. You have to win all your games to be the National Champion, and 2. (After Ted Ginn gazelled the opening kickoff return for a touchdown) You've got to guard him. A broken ankle, and a blitzkrieg soon followed.]

2. Don't call the kettle black. (When you're the posterboy for one of the most obnoxious pop dynastys of the modern era, you don't assail the brethern. I defy you Carson to tell me how USC is any different than Ohio State when it comes to public patronage. If anything, the Trojans should be grateful for their revival. After all, The Rivalry, Esq. remembers when it took Jenny McCarthy in a bikini at halftime to fill the Coliseum half full. Do yourself a favor and reflect on the fact that when you committed to the Trojans, they were a 6 win team.)

3. Never, ever use the phrase "butt-whoopin" on the West Coast. (You've got to stay faithful to the Gangsta scene. Try instead, "Dog, we're gonna pop a cap in yo ass." Then go pee on yourself at a humanitarian protest and order a Vegan dinner for your fake-boobed girlfriend.)

4. Finally, don't forget where you're from. (Statistics suggest that at least 80% of the Bengals faithful are Buckeye fans. Talk about falling on your own sword).

The truth is that Carson Palmer (like Chad Johnson) is struggling with his own mortality. After a lackluster five seasons in the NFL, and more Growing Pains than ABC, he's focused on trash-talking rather than legitimately evolving as a leader.

Instead of losing sleep over the demonic youngsters up north, try focusing on the task at hand and making your team relevant.

And in the meantime watch your blind side. Apparently the Buckeyes have a few guys in the NFL that might not agree with your bearded banter.

19 July 2008

Fair-Weather Facts: Disrobing the Blue Ribbon Bias

I'm writing from a passenger train in the United Kingdom en route from Oxford to London. I'm across the pond studying comparative legal processes for the summer. If you're a regular reader of The Rivalry, Esq. you haven't noticed, because I haven't mentioned it. I'm 100 percent wired at my desk making it easy to keep up to date with the American football scene.

And the truth is, I like this temporary separation from sport because July has always been and will always be a sort of college football purgatory. With two weeks until the first snaps over the sun-scorched August grass mark the beginning of fall camp in Columbus, it's easy to get complacent.

And so, like ants on a dropped Popsicle, commentators dissect -- turning men into numbers and programs into sums.

It's a process I usually cherish -- a word tonic for the anxious fan's thirst. But lately, there's been a lack of accountability at the top.

"After initially rating the Buckeye Offense and Defense units a C and C+ respectively, Blue Ribbon changed the grades to B+ and B without explanation."

Each year in an attempt to garner publicity for its flagship college product NCAA Football 2009, EA Sports outlines their Top 25 picks for the fall. To maximize the effectiveness of the hype campaign, they spread the countdown out over a full week -- releasing ascending ranks in neat groupings of five. Like all prognostications, the selections are often more normative than empiric.

Still, I tune in every day to find out where my beloved virtual Scarlet will land.

Two weeks ago it was the 25 Toughest Stadiums. The Horseshoe placed third -- which, considering its lack of permanent lights (and therefore, night kickoffs) is respectable. But as I scanned down from the photo-realistic screenshot, I noticed EA had mistakenly listed the official capacity as 89,500. The OSU Department of Athletics reports the Shoe presently seats 102,329 -- a number that often swells to over 107,000 during marquis contests. ESPN has since corrected the feature. So no big deal, right?

That's what I thought -- until I turned to last week's offering, the Top 25. Packaged in the form of streaming video gameplay, the lifelike simulations give the fan a small preview of how the premiere matchups of 2008 will go down. What's particularly clever is the built-in equilibrium -- after we watch No. 4 USC's Joe McKnight take an outside pitch 30 yards for a touchdown against Ohio State -- Brian Robiskie returns the favor for the No. 3 Buckeyes as he sources an open field catch for an easy six against the Trojan secondary.

But for all the effort the press relations folks at EA put into editing their segments, they must have forgotten to conduct basic research on their scripts. As a result the preview for No. 5 Florida opens with the observation that "The Gators look to build off their Gator-Bowl victory last season..."

Strange. I could have sworn Florida was swamped by the Michigan Wolverines in last season's Capital One Bowl. The only thing they might want to build on from that effort is the pressure their defensive line put on Mike Hart.

Still, EA Sports makes video games. Clearly, they can't be expected to deliver at the same level as professional sports writers.

That's why I was absolutely flabbergasted when I read Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook's Ohio State Team Preview.

After spending 95 paragraphs absolutely gushing over the Buckeyes, their 18 returning starters, super-recruit Terrelle Pryor, and conference favorite status the preview proceeds to give the Scarlet a lower average than Clemson, BYU, and California, none of whom figure to crack the top 10 when the pre-season polls are released. Ohio State will easily place in the top 4.

After initially rating the Buckeye Offense and Defense units a C and C+ respectively, Blue Ribbon changed the grades to B+ and B without explanation.

Okay, call it another mistake -- but this time there's something substantively wrong with the result. Blue Ribbon writes the following about the Buckeye defense:

"The Buckeyes lose one starter and gain one starter, so the net result might be improved play overall."

Considering that last year the "same" defense (now "improved") ranked first in the nation statistically might be grounds to award them the coveted A+ (traditionally reserved for power programs like BYU). But no. As Blue Ribbon sees it, this merits a B, a lower grade than an offense returning the same number of players that ranked in the bottom 50% (62nd out of 119) of FBS teams in 2007.

Intangibles aside (Blue Ribbon actually has a separate mark for those variables) this kind of blatant intermeddling of logic and emotion is usually reserved for the Blogosphere -- not the glossy pages of a commercial almanac. It's irrational, and amateur.

That's why I'm inclined to grin when the preview writer concludes in part by noting, "The talent and depth is amazing."

Amazing? Really? On a B Average squad?

What kind of adjective will Blue Ribbon be forced to use when they write about an A+ effort?

How about capricious?

14 July 2008

The Big 10's Most Intriguing Player Needs a Nickname

Todd Boeckman does not strike the casual observer as the most intriguing player in the Big 10. But this 6' 4'', 240 lb. Buckeye quarterback will be a prime player in some of the most interesting subplots of the 2008 college football season. Can USC expose this signal caller's weaknesses to pull off a win in the "game of the year"? Will the Buckeye faithful call for Terrelle Pryor to start if the Buckeye's struggle early? With teams keying on Heisman favorite Beanie Wells, can Boeckman put up monster numbers?

But I digress...Hate OSU or love 'em, I think Todd Boeckman needs a nickname. If he is going to spend so much time in the national spotlight, announcers, critics, and fans need something to grip onto instead of a boring German sounding name. My ideas are below, feel free to post or email me (grahamfiller10@yahoo.com) with your own.

"Becks" (like David Beckham)
"Lodi Toddy, he likes to party"
"Fast Version of Ryan Mallet"
"Slow Version of Chris Leak"
"Give Me the Ball" (Beanie Wells' suggestion)

12 July 2008

The Rivalry Classics - Little Brother and the UM-MSU Rivalry

How the University of Michigan bypassed the Spartans of Michigan State on the way to being the dominant college football team in the state of Michigan

On the speed limit insulting drive on I-96 from East Lansing to Ann Arbor, an observant driver is sure to notice a few speed traps, a lot of open fields, and a green fuel truck with a white smiley face somewhere near Fowlerville. This hour long drive offers little excitement, just like the “rivalry” between the college football teams residing in the two aforementioned cities.

Since Bo Schembechler began his reign as Michigan football coach in 1969, the Wolverines have easily surpassed the Spartans as the dominant college football program in the state of Michigan. The Wolverine program has become a national brand, recognized for its indomitable winged helmet and the numerous NFL players it produces, while the Spartans have struggled with slap-happy coaches, drugged up star players, and mediocre results. Wolverine RB Mike Hart infamously compared Michigan State to an annoying little brother who struggles a lot until you push him down. The Paul Bunyan Trophy has spent so much time in Ann Arbor that I hear Paul has decided to get a nice ranch over on Stadium Drive and settle down platonically with Babe the Blue Ox.
Statistics Since 1969
Bowl Appearances
Head-to-Head Matchup

But the question remains: How…in the world did the University of Michigan cultivate a respected national reputation and a higher standard of football excellence than its East Lansing counterpart?
When Duffy Daugherty took the reigns at Michigan State, he was inheriting a program that had just posted a 35-2 record over the last 4 years with Biggie Munn. The Spartans were national champions under Munn and Daugherty had high expectations. After a disappointing first season, Daugherty delivered on those expectations, carrying the Spartans to a couple of legendary seasons (’65, ’66) and consistently solid records in an increasingly competitive Big 10. Daugherty, a smart and witty coach, took the socially progressive step of recruiting top African-American athletes from the South. George Webster, Bubba Smith, and Charlie “Mad Dog” Thornhill were tremendously physical athletes from the South, all recruited by Daugherty at a time when many Southern schools were ignoring African-American athletes. Most importantly, Daugherty pulverized the Wolverines in the 1960’s, winning 70% of the rivalry games. East Lansing had the best damn college football program in the Mitten.
The Spartans began falling off at the end of the 1960’s as other schools began following Daugherty’s recruiting example and the Wolverines named a young Miami (OH) man named Bo Schembechler to be its head coach. In 1969, Schembechler took a moribund Michigan program and led them to the most famous upset in Michigan football history, a 24-12 victory over the #1 Buckeye’s. Schembechler’s media-created rivalry with Woody Hayes (they were close friends, a product of their Miami (OH) days) began a period where Michigan and Ohio State were the only two relevant programs in the Big 10, earning the Big 10 the nickname “Big 2, Little 8.”
Woody and Bo outshone Michigan State and every other Big 10 team during the 1970’s, a period where college football’s popularity began to rocket. As Bo’s sideline temper and powerful teams became entrenched in the national psyche, Michigan State struggled through unsuccessful no-name coaches and continued ass-thrashings by its Ann Arbor counterpart. Players like Anthony Carter and Rick Leach helped lead Michigan to a 17-3 record versus the Spartans during the 1970’s and 1980’s
A concept that a number of Michigan State fans pointed out to me was the “Bo Schembechler” effect on the Big 10. Coaches in the Big 10 began to follow Bo’s example of practicing plays over and over and playing an extremely physical style of football. The Big 10 began to look at Michigan (and Ohio State) as the Granddaddy’s of the Big 10.
Michigan football had a consistent coach from 1969 until the mid 1990’s in Schembechler. While Bo was building a nationally recognized program with tremendous marketing appeal (that very recognizable yellow swoosh on a blue background), the Spartans best hope became George Perles, a former Pittsburgh Steeler defensive coach brought in to recruit the Western Pennsylvania hotbed. Perles recruited studs like Percy Snow, Lorenzo White, and Andre Rison and gave Michigan State an image that fans could associate with Michigan State football. Perles won 4 out of 11 games versus Bo and returned some sizzle to the rivalry.
Contrast George Perles’ recruiting coup (Rison was a top recruit at Flint Northwestern) and general popularity…to the recent coaching reign of John L. Smith. Smith was brought from Louisville to bring excitement to the Spartans program. Smith trumpeted his fancy new offense (no fullback needed) and his motivational skill, only to be ridiculed for on-field embarrassments and off the field incidents. No one will forget the horrendous coaching in the 4th quarter of the loss to Notre Dame in 2006; up 3 touchdowns in the 4th quarter, Smith called risky passes instead of burning time off the clock and the Irish came back for a historic win. Smith also incurred ridicule for the perceived lack of discipline he instilled in his players and the time he slapped himself during a press conference. Needless to say, his reign is over at Michigan State.
The players to come out of Michigan and Michigan State have also helped build the reputation of the programs.
"Star WR Andre Rison tried to coin his own nickname (“Spiderman,” it never caught on) and then had his mansion burned down by a member of the R&B group TLC."
High profile players like Tom Brady, Charles Woodson, and Steve Hutchinson have gone on to successful and lucrative NFL careers after excelling in Ann Arbor. In comparison, four of the best Spartans to come out of East Lansing in the last 20 years have become famous for matters completely unrelated to football. OL Tony Mandarich, the “Incredible Bulk” himself, burned out of the NFL amidst allegations of steroid use and attitude problems. Star WR Andre Rison tried to coin his own nickname (“Spiderman,” it never caught on) and then had his mansion burned down by a member of the R&B group TLC. Jeff Smoker, MSU’s all-time leading passer, was suspended in 2002 for his very well known cocaine habit and flamed out in the NFL. Finally, Charles Rogers, who was a tremendous all-around athlete (I watched him score 32 points against Waverly in the Class A state title basketball game, including three dunks), missed most of his first three seasons in the NFL due to injury and drug suspensions and was recently cut by the Detroit Lions.
The Wolverine-Spartan rivalry is at a crucial juncture. The Spartan’s have lost the last 6 games and the losses have been heart wrenching; the Spartans led deep into the 4th quarter last year, only to lose on a late touchdown pass from Chad Henne to Mario Manningham. Even the few wins that the Spartans have pulled off in this rivalry are so clouded with controversy that Michigan fans almost refuse to recognize the validity of these Spartan victories. Watch Desmond Howard get tripped up to seal a Spartan victory (http://www.umgoblue.com/Old/HTML/Football/90/90UMMSU.htm) and watch “Clockgate,” when the East Lansing clock operator stopped the clock to allow a final play (http://youtube.com/watch?v=yoFZIBY-IVU).
But MSU head coach Mark Dantonio has come in and made similar moves to what his mentor, Jim Tressel, did at Ohio State. Dantonio has not made excuses (like Bobby Williams did in 2002) or made a fool of himself like John L. Smith. He has taken a business-like approach to recruiting better in Michigan and mining the rich recruiting fields of Ohio, where Dantonio coached for years. My father attends Dantonio's booster club meetings and reports that Dantonio is not a funny, humorous guy, but is a detail oriented and serious coach. Judging from the recent history of the Spartans, Dantonio's attitude is a welcome change.
As I’ve written before, the Spartans are favored in 2008 against the new look Wolverines. Michigan State returns a veteran quarterback and a star running back and there is no reason Dantonio cannot make this an even rivalry. Michigan State has great facilities, an attractive campus, legendary players, and a solid coaching staff. During the fall, Saturday's revolve around Spartan football in East Lansing and the students are fervently supportive. But the stigma of being 2nd best in the Great Lake State is a hard thing to overcome, and Dantonio has his work cut out for him. 5 star recruit James Jacksons recent decision to attend Ohio State over his hometown (Grand Ledge/East Lansing: close enough) Spartans nicely illustrates the struggle that Michigan State has with playing second banana to Michigan and Ohio State.
Will the “little brother” in this rivalry finally grow up and make this rivalry even? Until the Spartans can win some recruiting battles and capture the Paul Bunyan Trophy, Michigan will be a state dominated by Wolverine college football.

06 July 2008

The Rivalry - Debates on Draft

Student + Athlete = Oxymoron?

Should student athletes be subjected to standard admissions criterion when applying to undergraduate institutions?


If you're South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier, you're concerned. You're concerned that the 5-star wideout you just spent a pleasant weekend recruiting in Briny Breezes, Florida might not be a future Nobel Laureate. This might have something to do with the fact that after telling him you think he has a future at USC, he responds "But I want to play for South Carolina."

Still, after a thorough review of his high school file it's clear he'll make the NCAA cut for eligibility -- so, you offer him a scholarship and he pledges to come early.

A few months down the road you learn he was rejected, not by the NCAA, but by your own admissions department (apparently administrators frown on grade point averages that read like blood alcohol levels). Enraged, you make a phone call to the school president. But there's nothing he can do.

So, you call a press conference, slam your visor on the news desk and demand lower admissions standards or you're through.

The Southeastern Conference was listening. Last week they announced a uniform relaxation in their admissions fabric to perfectly mirror the NCAA minimum clearinghouse lows (see http://fanblogs.com/sec/007610.php). This rock-bottom approach now allows non-qualifying players probationary access to campus, where they're required to get their grades up in order to play.

Something tells me that Nick Saban, yes, the same Nick Saban who last year preemptively attacked Jim Leavitt and the South Florida Bulls for eating out of the SEC dumb recruits dumpster will rejoice the new across the board "parity."

But is this the right answer? By circumventing standard admissions requirements the SEC has effectively created a double-standard for its member institutions. To the casual observer, the message is clear: Want to go to Vandy? Pick up a football.

The end result is that critics of the cancerous cash cow they see as college sports have a whole lot more to complain about. After all, it's their honors student that just got waitlisted at Michigan while some guy with a 500 pound bench and a 1.8 G.P.A. prepares to enroll. To avoid the double-standard, I'll argue that colleges should input extraordinary athletic talent as a soft factor in their admissions formulas on the basis that kinesthetic intelligence is important to creating a diverse learning environment, just like race, sex, and life experience.

Because it's impossible to talk about this one without at least mentioning Gratz and Grutter...

Gratz v. Bollinger, and Grutter v. Bollinger are two related equal protection cases dealt with concurrently by the United States Supreme Court in 2003. Both challenged the constitutionality of a University of Michigan affirmative action admissions policy (the former, at the Undergraduate College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, and the later, at the College of Law) that provided certain ethnic minorities positive consideration by virtue of their race.

The justification Michigan gave for the policy: diversity is an essential part of the learning experience.

And the Supreme Court's response: yes, and no. It's permissible they reasoned, in a small class environment like a law school (prone to scrutinizing every application), for race to be introduced as a soft factor.  But, this kind of critical evaluation is more difficult in the undergraduate context, where the admissions system is an automated points index.

Now why do I bring this up? It's because some smartass (Michael Wilt) is going to try to throw Gratz in my face, arguing that the very system I'm about to propose is unconstitutional.

One of the nice things about going to law school is you learn the value of anticipation.  Here, when I talk about extraordinary athletic ability, I'm not referring to an immutable characteristic -- something a person can't change -- like race or sex. Because none of these kinds of "suspect classifications," are invoked when we discuss people who run and throw better than you and I, a court charged with examining the issue would use a lower standard of review than the one invoked in Gratz. This makes the proposal all the more plausible.

Intelligence, Reframed

In his landmark 1983 text, Frames of Mind, Harvard Psychologist Howard Gardner proposed a theory of multiple intelligences. According to Gardner, and contrary to popular belief intelligence is not a single property of the human mind. By contrast, everyone is endowed with a unique set of "intelligences" which they can put to use in different ways. Gardner came up with seven: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.

"Want to go to Vandy?  Pick up a football."

So what -- we know we're different -- what's the big deal? Well, Gardner argues that in the context of education we only truly value one: linguistics. The curator of the spoken and written word is glorified in the classroom while the physically adept are frustrated and embarrassed.

The problem with the classic model of liberal education is that our institutions aren't built to accommodate alternative abilities. If you "cant read good" in First grade, the likelihood is that you'll turn to extracurricular pursuits (say blacktop basketball) to build confidence. By the time you reach high school, the school/bad, sports/good dichotomy is far too engrained to be overcome by the words of nineteenth-century aristocrats to whom you can't relate.

Then, you get a break. You're offered a scholarship to play football at South Carolina...

Wait, Jon, I thought you were arguing that student athletes should be required to meet minimum admissions standards. This guy doesn't have a chance...

You're right. But, I'm returning to the scenario I introduced at the outset to illustrate the problem with the current justifications.

Suppose the administration bends the rules to accommodate the recruit. They're lampooned for undermining the academic integrity of the institution.

Now suppose they do the opposite, take a hard-line stance, and reject him. The majority of FBS schools suddenly don't have a prayer of getting premiere talent. (Do you honestly think Charles Woodson could have gotten into Michigan on raw GPA and test scores alone?)

It should now be clear that Universities that field competitive programs are stuck: dammed if they do, and dammed if they don't.

But, there's an easy solution.

Say what you mean to say.

Rather than avoid the subject, or hide behind NCAA minimums, institutions of higher learning should embrace the reality that the presence of kinesthetic thinkers on campus adds to the collegiate experience for everyone.

Instead of shuttering at the prospect of a double standard, University administrations should input extraordinary athletic talent as a soft factor in the undergraduate admissions formula, on the level of race, sex, and life experience. This will give kinesthetically-motivated candidates a sizable boost.

Athletes who still can't make the cut should nonetheless be permitted to enroll to play football, as Associates degree candidates; an interdisciplinary program in life management skills created by the University specifically for them, and light-loaded to last up to four years (in tune with eligibility).

It may turn out that athletes, more comfortable with the flexible approach, will find success (perhaps for the first time) in the classroom environment. Those that maintain a certain GPA as an Associates degree candidate should be accepted to transfer onto the Bachelor's track as full-time students.

Unlike the standard NCAA framework, this modified approach will: 1. Allow colleges to get the best possible athletes across a level playing field, 2. Allow athletes who leave early for the NFL to graduate with a degree, 3. Make the traditional classroom learning environment more sensitive to alternative skill sets, 4. Provide an incentive for players to reflect on their future and accept full responsibility for their classroom performance, and 5. Ensure Universities maintain credibility as storied institutions of higher learning.


Kinesthetic intelligence. Grutz v. Bollinger. Institutions of higher learning. Athletic talent as a soft factor for admissions. 

These fancy terms and concepts are wonderful for a law journal or small talk at a get together for college professors, but they have little to do with the real issue at hand: Should young men, woefully under qualified and unprepared for collegiate academic life, be held up to some kind of illusory academic standard when they're offered an athletic scholarship?

The answer is unequivocally and emphatically no.  To say anything else is to play lip service to the tremendous hypocrisy that currently exists in the term “Student-Athlete.” Top recruits, especially football players, are signed up for one reason – and everyone knows it.  So instead of 1) setting some kind of weak academic line that the occasional unlucky recruit is sideswiped by and 2) using big terms like academic integrity…let’s concentrate on integrating college athletes into the campus atmosphere and focus on getting athletes into social settings where they can grow as people and students.

Kinesthetic Intelligence…But You’ll Never See It

Jon is very much correct in saying that athletes have tremendous kinesthetic intelligence.  If your brain can say “pump fake left, check off middle receiver, hot route open” in .8 seconds and your body can follow suit, you're doing something right.  And of course a college campus is a stronger campus with a student body that's diverse.

"Less hypocrisy.  More focus on the athlete's actual needs."

But Jon, how many male basketball and football players did you hang out with at Miami (OH)? I am guessing the number is low. Even more telling Jon; how many male basketball and football players did you consistently see at Miami (OH)? “Big School“ college athletes live a closed existence; they live together, follow a strict practice/game schedule, and when they attend class, do not traditionally use all that kinesthetic skill to bring anything special to the classroom.

All that kinesthetic energy so fondly spoke of is channeled toward one thing: becoming a better athlete and bringing athletic success to one’s alma mater. Athletes know their purpose at a school, especially the highly recruited, well known ones.

With the Purpose Known, Lip Service is Still Paid to Storied Academic Institutions

Jon would lead you to believe that athletes who don't qualify academically should be allowed into school as part of the diversification of the university and then given a special-tailored program to help them excel academically.  He seems to think this is a novel concept.

Athletes are allowed in through every exception imaginable. What if that 5 star wideout has a 1.9 high school GPA and your soft cutoff is 2.0? Send that 6 foot 4 ball of energy to summer classes and get him over that minimum GPA. Then cheer like there is no tomorrow while he is jumping over DB’s from Rival U, all the while claiming your school has held up its academic integrity. Student athletes and fans deserve a little more honesty and respect from administration.

A Simple Choice

For those who enjoy picking from options, here is what I feel like the options on the table are:

1. Continue with soft admissions and tailoring every possible advantage to getting unqualified recruits in, all the while claiming you are cultivating strong student athletes and upholding academic tradition. Allow schools like Notre Dame and Stanford to claim they cannot recruit top football recruits because they have standards. Force conferences, like the SEC, to lower their admission policy to the lowest possible threshold with the obvious goal of allowing more unqualified players in – but God, don’t let the SEC mention their true intentions. Make colleges have a goal of pulling athletic high schoolers over a mythical 2.0 GPA line so a school can uphold its mythical academic tradition.

2. Drop the Standard Admission Criteria farce. Allow colleges to recruit for top notch athletes, but force colleges to do a better job integrating their student-athletes into the community.  Take athletes in and take steps to make them productive members of the college campus instead of paid professionals. 

Sure it’s idealistic, but at least the focus will be put on strengthening college student athletes. Jon had a wonderful idea of starting the athlete’s in a lower level program and if they excel, bump them to a full scale BA program. If my plan had a tagline, it would be: “Less Hypocrisy, More Focus on the Athlete’s Actual Needs.”

Right now, every Nick Saban and Urban Meyer is discussing how to get Token 5 Star Recruit's GPA up one more point so he can come play football at their school. Once Token's GPA hits that GPA threshold, their entire focus is going to be on making him a stud athlete. This approach is not only hypocritical, but entirely harmful. So let's take the focus off a bright line GPA approach and put the focus on making the student athlete a productive member of the collegiate system and society.

02 July 2008

Bob Ufer Weighs in on the 2008 Michigan Wolverines

"...Under center is Wangler, he goes back, Carter has it, Carter is (inaudible), AHHHH...95 Wolverines are going in the endzone...Ufer is going out of his mind...Anthony Carter, the human torpedo...Will be heard until another 100 years of Michigan football...I've never been so happy in my 59 cotton picking years..."
Who has ever been able to describe the excitement of Michigan football better than the immortal Bob Ufer? Ufer's website calls him "enthusiastic, optimistic, loyal, and hardworking," and anyone with a pulse can tell these characteristics are correct. So with a nod towards some of the most famous Bob Ufer quotes, I want to discuss the excitement and uncertainty that surrounds the Michigan Wolverine football team of 2008.

"I Have Never Seen Anything Like This!"

Ufer's famous call on the Anthony Carter touchdown against Indiana is exactly what many fans will say when the Wolverines come out in the Rich Rod spread. Michigan's I-form / Pro-Form offense of the Lloyd Carr era has given way to the spread and this Michigan fan couldn't be happier. Michigan's offense, full of NFL talent, was halted many times in big games during 2007. The Rich Rod spread will struggle during 2008, this is sure. But Rodriguez is following the national trend of building a varied, adaptable offense, and the 2008 Michigan offense is sure to wake a few fans who have been slumbering through the 7 step drops and 2 yard dives of 2007.

"Thank You Fielding Yost!"

After Carter miraculously scored against Indiana, Ufer offered up a prayer of gratefulness to the Michigan legend. Although I am sure Ufer was caught up in the moment and some misfiring neutron in his brain channeled the Michigan coach with an 83% winning percentage, Ufer's "thank you" is a constant reminder that, dammit, UM football is still UM football, full of legends, a storied history, and top recruits.

So no matter how bad Rich Rod's spread looks right off the bat and no matter how the Utah opener goes, let's not forget that the Meeeechigan football program still pulls top 10 recruiting classes and has one of the best defenses in the Big 10, with Brandon Graham and Terrance Taylor leading the way. Also, 40 straight winning seasons is nothing to laugh about.

"They Laid Woody Hayes Away"


The simple fact that Ufer wrote a poem about burying college footballs version of Bobby Knight is enough to make any Wolverine smile. Ufer's ode to a Michigan upset over the Buckeyes is especially relevant this year. Can the Wolverine's put up a fight against a Buckeyes team primed for a national title run? Will the offense run into a Buckeye brick wall and only spring for 3 points like 2007? Will the loss of Terrelle Pryor to Columbus haunt Michigan's precarious QB situation?

"Oh They Came to Bury Michigan, But Michigan Wasn't Dead"

The 2008 schedule does not look favorably on University of Michigan football. Games against Utah, Notre Dame, Illinois, Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State look like possible/probable losses. The offense will be tested instantly and Notre Dame and Michigan State are licking their chops to play this untested Wolverine team and avenge some embarrassing recent defeats. The blogosphere is lighting up with early news of the Wolverine's demise.

But Bob Ufer would support the old Lee Corso adage, "not so fast my friend." The Michigan Wolverines will always be a threat thanks to their tremendous recruiting and history. So if you would, turn the volume up of an old Bob Ufer clip and allow Mr. Ufer to convince you that hope springs eternal at the corner of Main and Stadium and that the 2008 Wolverine's can rise from their premature funereal proceedings.

01 July 2008

Rising Fog and The Top 5 Upsets of 2008

"...the fog is rising."

This allegorical imagery was Emily Dickinson's last, spoken to her sister from her deathbed in 1886.  If you watched the 2007 season you're no stranger to famous last words.  Ask No. 18 Louisville, No. 5 Michigan, No. 2 South Florida, No. 2 USC, No. 2 California, No. 1 LSU, No. 1 Ohio State, and No. 1 Missouri about the eggshell steps modern favorites take to the championship.

Is the rise of the Davids, led by Appalachian State a sign that parity in college football has changed forever, or rather, does the famous German philosophy of destiny einman ist keinmal (what happens once may well have never happened at all) control?

The Rivalry, Esq. has laid out the cards.  And on the wide, lazy stretches of open river, we see whitewater ahead.

Here are the Top 5 upsets that will define 2008, in headline form.


Pundits and hysterics alike will reconvene at their favorite campus haunts August 30th, sunburned and hoarse from their own team's opening day matchup for the premiere edition of Saturday Night Football.  Although they'll have drowned a few too many Coors Lights to see it at full resolution, 2008 will open like a Roger Moore Bond film. 

There are a lot of reasons to like Missouri.  They're fresh off a dynamically successful season -- punctuated by a Sports Illustrated cover, a Biblical betrayal by the BCS and a spring game that looked the first half of the UNC/Kansas Final Four.  

They've returned a scary good offense.  Even the defense can't knock them out of contention for a Top 5 entry ranking.  And, I saved the best for last: they've got unfinished business.

Compare Illinois.  They're fresh off a surprising surge -- an away upset of a No. 1, immediately followed by a catapult shot to the rose garden, free iPods, and an a colonoscopy.

They've returned a quick QB, but dropped their engine.  And, I saved the best for last: The Rivalry, Esq. has already gone on record in its June 9th Big Ten Preview Series, saying "The Missouri Tigers want it more."

So why does this Schlabach in the making think the Tigers will tank?  Do me a favor, go back up to the paragraph beginning with "There are a lot of reasons..." and re-read my preview of Mizzou, only this time, replace "Missouri" with "Michigan in 2007."  

See it?


The first meeting ever between Auburn and West Virginia (also notable as the closest an SEC team will ever come to playing north of the Mason-Dixon Line), will be a parade of the old "anything you can do, I can do better" mentality.  

Tommy Tuberville's new spread offense will give the Mountaineers a dose of their own medicine, and for the first time in almost a year, Morgantown residents will have a new coach to complain about.

"Einman ist keinmal (what happens once may well have never happened at all)"


After holding off Alabama in a tit-for-tat opener, Tommy Bowden will coast Clemson through the Atlantic -- and onto the National Championship expressway.  But, they'll never make it out of the state.  

A visit from Steve Spurrier will haunt the Tiger faithful forever in a low scoring, defense-dominated shocker on the last Saturday of the regular season.  

2.  TO THE VICTORS BELONG THE SPOILS (November 22nd, 2008)

Impossible, you say?

Remember 1969.

It's the fear of every Buckeye.  Dubbed by the media as "the greatest college football team of all time," the top-ranked Scarlet came into the Rivalry riding the coattails of a 22-game winning streak, and led by the legendary Woody Hayes.  Their adversary was rebuilding, a proud program down on it's luck, fronted by a curious new coach: Schembechler.

Sound familiar?

The result, one of the biggest upsets in college football history and the beginning of the Ten-Year War.  An unusually warm Saturday in late November will be eerily similar to that day in 1969 when the Wolverines are born again.

1. HE'S STILL GOT IT.  FSU FOILS FLORIDA (November 29th, 2008)

On the same day the son suffers his greatest setback, the father will take the train to retirement on the shoulders of the greatest upset of the 2008 college football season.  

The Seminoles will show they're on their way back with a defensive symphony of stops, and a last minute surge that will knock the wind out of the Gators' national championship hopes.