Thoughts on Tressel-gate

Tag: NCAA investigation

10Mar 2011
Uncategorized 12 comments

Thoughts on Tressel-gate

I refuse to put up a picture of Ohio State, so here’s a stormy diarama created by Matthew Albanese.  It’s made
of parchment paper, thread, ostrich feathers, chocolate, wire, raffia, masking tape, coffee, synthetic moss,
and cotton.  Click on it if you don’t believe me.

 For the most part, I try to concentrate on Michigan football here at Touch the Banner.  With a full-time job and a strong dedication to Wolverines athletics, I really don’t have time to keep up with all the goings on in college football around the country.  So when scandals happen at USC and even Ohio State, I typically keep my nose to the maize-and-blue grindstone.

With all that being said, Jim Tressel is an idiot.

The e-mails that came out recently are damning to the nth degree.  I have always had a begrudging respect for Tressel, who is a polished, well spoken man with a squeaky clean personal record.  He’s never been in trouble for drunk driving, hiring prostitutes, choking his players, cussing out reporters, etc.  I guess that’s why they call him Senator.

And the Senator is a good nickname, because it turns out that the image of moral superiority is just a facade.  Just like any of hundreds of politicians in recent history, the dirty secrets are starting to leak.  I will be the first to admit that I don’t have huge qualms with every single one of the Ohio State football program’s transgressions during Tressel’s decade as a coach.  When a coach has 100+ players on his team, many of whom come from meager backgrounds, it’s difficult to follow what each of those 100+ players does on a daily basis.  And as much as a coach would like to believe that his players will follow team, university, and NCAA rules on a daily basis, we all know that college kids will be college kids.

But the pattern under Tressel is becoming more and more daunting for him to overcome.  He has had several star players face disciplinary action for taking improper benefits – A.J. Hawk, Nick Mangold, Maurice Clarett, Terrelle Pryor, Troy Smith – and the punishments from above have been fairly light.  Of course, Ohio State’s athletic director Gene Smith came out and essentially said, “Come Hell or high water, Jim Tressel is our coach.”  And why not?  Tressel wins a bunch of games, often wins the Big Ten championship, and even pulled in a national championship eight years ago.  Gene Smith and university president Gordon Gee want to True Grit this horse until it dies.

But at some point, each dynasty fails.  Look at Alabama in the early ’90’s.  Look at the University of Michigan under Rich Rodriguez.  Look at USC prior to Pete Carroll.  Tennessee.  Florida.  Texas in 2010.  Ohio State hasn’t had a truly bad year since 1999, when John Cooper went 6-6.

And the key point here with Tressel is that he had options.  Punishments are far less severe when evildoers (I figured that if Tressel can quote George W. Bush, then so can I) admit their evildoings.  Tressel could have taken the e-mails he received directly to the Buckeyes’ compliance director when Tressel received them in April 2010.  Instead, he chose to keep it quiet, and that’s why Ohio State is in this miss right now.  ESPN writer and author of Meat Market Bruce Feldman pointed out yesterday that the NCAA basically ended Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant’s career for lying about improper benefits he received through contact with Deion Sanders.  And keep in mind that it wasn’t the benefits that Bryant was banned for – it was because of the lies.  He stated that he had provided accurate information to the NCAA.  Tressel also signed the same type of affidavit, stating that he had given the appropriate information to the NCAA investigators.

So if a 20-year-old kid like Bryant loses his amateur status for lying to the governing organization, how can anyone justify a 58-year-old coach doing the same thing?

Tressel was presumably concerned that the offenses would get his players suspended or cause them to be permanently ineligible, the latter of which would be a preposterous punishment.  College kids should not lose their chance to play football just for giving out some autographs and memorabilia in exchange for free tattoos and a few hunder dollars.  Suspended?  Yes.  Forced to repay the money?  Absolutely.  Banned permanently?  Let’s not be ridiculous. 

A quick bit of critical thinking should have told Tressel that Pryor and company would have received a slap on the wrist.  What would that have meant for Ohio State’s football team in 2010?  Let’s take a look.  If those five players received the same punishment for the 2010 season as they now must face for 2011, they would have missed:

  • Marshall, whom they beat 45-7.  Still a likely victory.
  • Miami, whom they beat 36-24.  Miami was ranked #12, so OSU would have been in a dogfight.
  • Ohio, whom they beat 43-7.  Win.
  • Eastern Michigan, whom they beat 73-20.  Slaughter.
  • Illinois, whom they beat 24-13.  Again, this was a somewhat close score, but OSU still would have been favored.

That’s a likely 4-1 record after that five-game stretch, which would have essentially removed the Buckeyes from national title contention, but still would have allowed them to be in the race for the Big Ten and a BCS bowl game.  And it’s not like Pryor would have actually led them to a national title, because that kid’s a bigger moron than his coach.

So Tressel risked his job and program based on the difference between a 12-1 season and, at worst, a 10-3 year (if you grant Illinois a victory).  Get out the hypothetical pitchforks!

If the NCAA were fair, it would suspend Tressel for the entire 2011 season.  If Ohio State had standards, it would fire Tressel.  In my opinion, all twelve victories from Ohio State’s 2010 season should be vacated.  And if we’re talking about Practicegate vs. Tressel-gate, then the Buckeyes ought to be put on several years’ probation.  And if we’re talking about Reggie Bush-gate (in which USC’s coaches denied knowledge of improper benefits) vs. Tressel-gate, Ohio State ought to lose some scholarships in the coming years.  The program in Columbus has a long history of these things happening, and at some point, the NCAA needs to stop slapping Ohio State’s wrist and come up with some sort of viable punishment.

24Feb 2010
Uncategorized 23 comments

In Defense of Morgan Trent

Former Michigan cornerback Morgan Trent (#25):
former team captain, 6th round draft pick, enemy of the state

On the heels of reports from the Detroit Free Press, the NCAA launched an investigation into alleged infractions by Rich Rodriguez and his staff at the University of Michigan. On Monday night, the NCAA’s allegations were made known to university administrators. On Tuesday afternoon, the university held a press conference, at which both head coach Rich Rodriguez and soon-to-be athletic director David Brandon admitted making past mistakes. Also on Tuesday afternoon, former Michigan cornerback Morgan Trent was interviewed by the Detroit News and said the following:

“I’m not surprised because I know what happened, and I know what kind of rules were broken. I couldn’t see how they were going to get out of that.

“Whatever steps need to be taken (to restore Michigan’s winning tradition), I’m all for it. What is happening right now obviously is not working. I don’t know how long they’re going to let this last until changes are made. This year is going to be the tell-all what’s going to happen. We can’t have three losing years in a row. Not at Michigan. To lose seven of last eight games (in 2009) is an embarrassment.”

These comments immediately set off a firestorm in the Michigan blogosphere. In various places, I found quotes like “Morgan Trent is a piece of shit” (MGoBlog’s message board), “While you’re talking to the press Morgan, how bout telling us how Dwayne Jarrett’s ass tastes?” (Genuinely Sarcastic), and “[Morgan’s] father should have done us all a favor and pulled out. Or worn a rubber. Or punched your mother in the stomach” (a blog aptly named The Toolshed). Meanwhile, Trent was a sixth round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals and locked down their nickel cornerback job, making 28 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 pass breakups in his 2009 rookie season. If he’s “truly horrible at football” (another MGoBlog message board post), then put me down as somebody who wants to be truly horrible at football, too.

As I was reading these comments – and responding to some – I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in Michigan’s fan base. Not only are the allegations perhaps the biggest letdown of the Rodriguez era, but Wolverine fans came out of the woodwork to denigrate and attempt to discredit Trent by insulting his body of work at Michigan.

To briefly recap Trent’s career at Michigan, he was recruited in 2004 out of Orchard Lake St. Mary’s as a wide receiver. He switched to cornerback during bowl practices of his freshman year, during which he redshirted, and played sparingly as a redshirt freshman. He became a starter opposite Leon Hall in the 2006 season, taking part in an embarrassing Rose Bowl loss to USC and The Horror against Appalachian State in 2007. In Rodriguez’s first season at Michigan, 2008, Trent started the entire year at cornerback, but his solid – although not spectacular – play took a step back in the one-year experiment where cornerbacks coach/defensive coordinator Scott Shafer installed a failure of a defense, was neutered mid-season in favor of the 3-3-5 stack, and was promptly fired at the end of the season. It’s not a coincidence that Trent’s season as a fifth-year senior was a disappointment – he was undone by poor coaching and a poor scheme. Despite the poor coaching, he was named one of four team captains at the end of the season.

Trent finished his career as a 41-game starter, tallying 149 tackles, 7 interceptions, and 24 passes defensed. In addition, he did things like this (fast forward to 3:35) and this:

Now, should Morgan Trent have said the things he did? Probably not. Trent really added nothing that people didn’t already know, and if he thought about it, he surely would have known that such comments wouldn’t help Michigan’s precarious position in the local and national media.

But he spoke the truth.

I’m not surprised because I know what happened, and I know what kind of rules were broken. Trent played at Michigan during the 2008 season, when some of these allegations took place. He was there. He saw it. Even if he didn’t know at the time that rules were being broken, he’s an insider – he knows more than any fan could. He might remember grad assistant Alex Herron showing up to 7-on-7s. He might remember practices going for an extra 20 minutes.

I couldn’t see how they were going to get out of that. An infraction is an infraction is an infraction. You can’t go back and change history, no matter how much you want to do so.

Whatever steps need to be taken (to restore Michigan’s winning tradition), I’m all for it. What is happening right now obviously is not working. That’s true. It’s not. Michigan is 8-16 over the past two years and they’re on the verge of “major infractions” (the NCAA’s words, not mine).

I don’t know how long they’re going to let this last until changes are made. This year is going to be the tell-all what’s going to happen at Michigan. We can’t have three losing years in a row. Not at Michigan. This is a common sentiment amongst Michigan fans, media, and – let’s face it – people within the program. Nobody knows how long Rodriguez has to right the ship. Some think that another losing season would get him fired. Some think he should get at least four years. I’m sure incoming athletic director David Brandon ponders the same question; he’s been publicly supportive of Rodriguez, but he knows that Michigan can’t endure infractions and losing seasons forever.

To lose seven of last eight games (in 2009) is an embarrassment. Does anybody want to argue that losing to MSU, Illinois, and Purdue wasn’t embarrassing? How about the 45-24 loss to Wisconsin?

All the ire directed at Trent is a defense mechanism. After decades of admiring Bo Schembechler and his disciples, Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr, Michigan fans cannot bring themselves to criticize the people who are truly to blame for what is happening right now at the University of Michigan – Rich Rodriguez and his staff.

A poster on MGoBlog said something to the effect that it makes him angry that “Haters are bringing down my Camelot.” Yes, the Free Press did some digging – much of it unethical – and jump-started the investigation. But the crux of the issue is that Rich Rodriguez broke the rules. He overscheduled practice times. His staff watched off-season 7-on-7s when they shouldn’t have. His staff punished players who skipped class. All of those things went against the rules that were put in place by the NCAA.

I’m not calling for Rodriguez to be fired. Far from it. Firing Rodriguez at this point would set the program even further back than it is. Barring any further infractions, he needs to keep his job through the 2010 season, and probably even 2011. But the tenuous hold he has on his job isn’t entirely due to outside forces. From the onset of his Michigan career, he was put in a tough position with the roster and personnel and media working against him, but this attack from the NCAA and the media falls squarely on his shoulders.

Michigan fans, your anger is misplaced. Be angry at the Detroit Free Press for the unethical ways they tricked young football players into answering their slick questions last summer. Be angry at the NCAA for having rules that student-athletes shouldn’t be punished for skipping classes. Be angry at Rich Rodriguez for letting things get out of control. Cancel your subscriptions, send letters, send e-mails. Let’s not lose perspective of who’s actually to blame.

Go Blue!

30Aug 2009
Uncategorized 3 comments

Michigan’s program in overdrive?

Detroit Free Press writer Michael Rosenberg has released allegations that Rich Rodriguez and his assistant coaches are overworking their players.

Rosenberg’s article states that players were required to work more than the NCAA-regulated 20 hours per week during the season and coaches and quality-control staffers watched 7-on-7s that are supposed to be player-run, among other things. The writer’s sources are supposedly current and former Michigan players, along with parents of others.
As could be expected, these allegations are causing an uproar in the blogosphere as well as in the college football world. Michigan’s football program has never been found guilty of major violations. If Lloyd Carr were still the coach, he and the program might be insulated a bit by the respect he had in the coaching world. But Rodriguez has already been inundated by attacks on his character for at least the last couple years, including the lawsuit by WVU, parting shots by Kurt Wermers and Justin Boren, and the questionable character of Justin Feagin.
The article includes quotes from incoming freshmen Je’Ron Stokes and Brandin Hawthorne, apparently recorded at Michigan’s Media Day. They mention having football-related work to do all day during the summer. Their comments can seem pretty damning on the surface, but those quotes aren’t evidence of NCAA violations. The quotes Rosenberg uses really make no mention that the coaches were mandating the workouts. If any player wants to work out and do 7-on-7s for 18 hours a day, he’s allowed.
But Rosenberg seemingly preyed on two incoming freshmen who likely had very little knowledge of the NCAA rules. It’s interesting that the two Michigan sources who didn’t request anonymity were 18-year-old kids who haven’t even finished their first summer practices. At best, Rosenberg’s journalistic efforts seem like poor journalism; at worst, they’re downright disingenuous and good reason for Rosenberg to be blackballed by Michigan sources from this point forward.
That being said, it’s not unbelievable that some violations occurred. During the season, coaches are allowed 20 hours of mandatory football work per week. Three hours of that come on Saturday, meaning there are 17 hours to spread amongst five other days (the players had Mondays off last year). That’s an average of 3.4 hours per day on those five days. Between practices and workouts (film study and visits to the training room don’t count), that’s not very much time per day. As a frame of reference, high school teams usually practice 2.5 to 3 hours per day in addition to 7 hours of school; college football players aren’t in class for nearly that amount of time per day.
One of the biggest variables in this story revolves around the definition of “mandatory.” If coaches are present at “voluntary” workouts, they are by definition mandatory. Nobody outside the program knows whether coaches were present at voluntary 7-on-7s, so it’s impossible and absurd for Michigan fans to dismiss this story out of hand. That being said, in the modern age of college football, very few workouts are truly “voluntary.” Kids need to be in great shape and have their techniques fine-tuned to be competitive. One motto that’s repeated in the story is “Workouts aren’t mandatory, but neither is playing time.” If Player A works extremely hard during voluntary workouts and learns all he can, when the season comes around, he’s going to get on the field ahead of Player B, who might only do the required minimum. If coaches were, in fact, present at 7-on-7s or voluntary workouts, that’s practically a guarantee that the practices went over the allotted 20-hour weekly limits.
If the NCAA investigates Rosenberg’s allegations, sanctions could include a loss of practice time or scholarship restrictions. Either could doom Michigan’s chances of regaining its stature as a powerhouse program in major college football in the near future. If Rodriguez’s program does incur sanctions such as these, this could be the death knell for Rodriguez as Michigan’s coach. Some fans and boosters have already been wary of Rodriguez, and major violations would probably sway another large chunk of fans and boosters.
And you can include me in that group. Whether Rodriguez and his staff are guilty of these allegations, I don’t know. If they aren’t – and I don’t trust Rosenberg as far as I could throw him – then the writer should be blackballed or perhaps even fired. If they are guilty, heads should roll. I don’t blame Rodriguez for last year’s 3-9 record, but you can’t field the worst Michigan team in forty years, commit major program violations, and keep your job.