Friday, June 29, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion Time

This week in self-promotion:

  • I wrote something about Nebraska football and how, after one year, I still don't really know what they are but how we'll probably find out a little more this year when Michigan makes the trip to Lincoln (a trip that I really, really hope to make). 
  • I did another player preview, this time on Taylor Lewan, the twosie aficionado himself. Is he Jake Long? Probably not. Is he really, really good nonetheless? Oh yeah. More questions? No. 
Other things of note (but not written by me): 
“I was talking to the guys from Cleveland and they said, ‘We’re not taking you,’ and I laughed and said, ‘Yeah, obviously.’

  • Stu Douglass, on the other hand, will begin his professional basketball career in Spain (via the MGoBoard). Luckily for Stu, airplanes exist, otherwise that whole "burn the boats" thing would look kind of silly right about now. 
  • We hardly knew ye...Michigan Hockey Net confirms that recently drafted Michigan commit Connor Carrick will in fact not be taking his talents to Ann Arbor, instead opting for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. So it goes. I figured after the fact that it was probably more than naive of me to say that none of the guys drafted last week would make the jump before coming to Ann Arbor. In any case, good luck to Mr. Carrick. 
  • SBN's Detroit Bad Boys takes a look at 9th overall pick Andre Drummond through a statistical lens. UConn in 2011-12 wasn't exactly the perfect environment for a developing young player, but yeah...this is the epitome of a boom-or-bust pick. The numbers aren't too kind to Drummond, but he undeniably looks the part of an NBA big man. We'll see what happens (as a Bulls fan, I'll get the chance to see quite a bit of him in the coming years). 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Michigan To Play Thursday Night Game Sign of the Apocalypse

ANN ARBOR, MI--In a release sent out earlier today, it was announced that Michigan would be playing a Thursday night game (HT: MGoBlog*) for the first time in its long and storied history. The Wolverines will travel to Utah to take on the Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium, a rare weekday darby for a program that prides itself on tradition and honor and noon kickoffs. This is a sign of the imminent Apocalypse, to be sure.

Michigan has in fact played weekday games before, most memorably a Friday night contest in 2003 against Minnesota in the Metrodome. However, playing on Thursday has never been done by a Wolverine football team. Naturally, concerns abound as a result of this controversial move.

Given the Michigan fan base's voracious appetite for the traditional, we went out into the field to do some crowd sourcing, asking Michigan fans the most obvious and salient questions: is this the straw that broke the Universe's back? Is it officially time to lose all hope? Will it be possible to complain about Dave Brandon in a world which no longer exists? Will Michigan fans be able to continue a carefully nurtured brand of lifelong sanctimony in what could quite possibly be a lawless and anarchistic post-apocalyptic society? In light of this news, these are the important questions of our time.

"This is simply the worst possible outcome. Murphy's Law indeed, ha!" said Winston Tweedington, 52, a wealthy Michigan alumnus and man of great importance. However, Tweedington's tone instantaneously shifted from playful to somber. "It's a slippery slope, to be sure. Next we will find ourselves side by side with the medicore hoi polloi," Tweeington muttered with undisguised disgust. "The...Mid-American Conference. Bah!"

Tweedington picked up steam. "First it's Thursday night games, and next thing you know...that's right, my journalistic fellow. We'll begin to admit athletes solely on the basis of their athletic exploits as opposed to the strength of their body of work on the gridiron of scholastic pursuit! I worry whether or not Michigan will find itself out of place with its similarly-minded peers: the Ivy League, Northwestern, Stanford, Vanderbilt, and so forth," Tweedington said, with no hint of irony to be found in his tone as he languidly held a glass of scotch and played with the lapel of his smoking jacket with a carelessness that verged on noble apathy.

Based on our brief interview, Tweedington seemed to be tragically resigned to a fate that was, in his mind, beneath him; however, we here at the Generic Horrible News Network often marvel at the vast spectrum and the many different manifestations of fandom that can be found at a football institution like Michigan.

John Smith, 44, of Eight Point Buck, Michigan had his own concerns about this development. "Football on a Thursday?" Smith asked. "Heck, that's no good for me. The folks walkin' into Walmart ain't gonna greet themselves, you know? Man's gotta work," he said, wiping a fleck of Costco hot dog from his $3 shirt that he purchased in 1984. Adjusting for inflation, this shirt was worth approximately 92 cents when purchased, which Smith proudly admitted to paying for with a sack of pennies and expired Big Boy gift certificates.

"I didn't go to Michigan, but hey, football's football, right? I don't need some fancy Wall Street guy to tell me when to watch. All I know is, I'll be parked on that couch over there at noon that Saturday, telling everybody in the house not to breathe for three hours...on account of the reception on those rabbit ears getting all sorts of messed up," Smith explained. Whereas Tweedington saw this as a grave setback, Smith appeared to take the news with a charmingly folksy resolve. Nothing would stop him from watching the game on Saturday, even if it meant not watching the game at all.

Variety is the spice of life, they say, and there is certainly no shortage of variety with respect to this Hungarian Wax Pepper of an issue.

In order to hit the youth demographic, we also spoke with several current Michigan students. An LSA sophomore, who asked to be referred to simply as "The Chad," had his own unique take on this new territory for Michigan football. "Thursday? THIS THURSDAY?? BRO. Something's going down and nobody told me? Check this, I'm about to send the illest angry email to the house listserv bro," said The Chad, plainly upset that no one had told him anything. The Chad pulled out a laptop emblazoned with the symbols of youth culture: stickers "repping"--as they say--Entourage, obscure unlistenable house music, and a context-less quote from The Boondock Saints. 

Upon informing The Chad that nothing out of the ordinary was in fact going down this Thursday, and that the Thursday in question centered around a football game taking place in 2015, The Chad remarked, "Football? Is that that thing that comes after the drinking?"

We also spoke with a junior majoring in engineering student who was surprisingly ecstatic upon hearing this news: "Great, now I don't have to set aside time for watching football. All that time spent in the Big House or at road games on Saturdays is just plain inefficient," the remarkably Vitamin D-deficient junior explained matter-of-factly. After a few moments, the student went on to ask, "Wait. What's football?"

Finally, we took the liberty of entering a crowded lecture hall--assembled for the esteemed Linda Gregerson's "Shakespeare's Principal Plays" course--and asking several students for their thoughts. We approached one student, near the back of the cavernous East Hall lecture room, who seemed half asleep and had his laptop open to a blank Microsoft Word document. The black progress marker flicked in and out of existence on the empty page, a startling reminder of the ever constant nature of change, of birth, death, and rebirth.

We not at all disruptively made our way down the row, forcing everyone to stand up--and giving acerbic glares to those who didn't--as we made our way toward the student. We sat down next to him and carefully poked him out of his probably unsatisfying semi-slumber, which caused him to jolt up and  sleepily say "Yeah man Hamlet, sucks for that guy that he stabbed," before trailing off and noticing my presence. "Who are you?" he asked, startled.

I asked, "What do you think about Michigan's schedule Thursday night game against Utah to be played in 2015?" Gregerson noticed all of this and audibly sighed at the podium, continuing with her lecture on the basics of iambic pentamter, Hamlet's existential crisis, and how Shakespeare totally didn't have a team of probably underpaid ghostwriters.

The student, an undeclared LSA freshman, perked up at the question, turning to his laptop and pointing to the website displayed on his browser,""

He began, "Well, on MGoBlog, the best source of news on Michigan sports anywhe--," he said, before we cut him off, took his Mountain Dew, and dumped its contents on his head.

"THATS WHAT YOU GET FOR READING BLOGS, IDIOT. TRADITIONAL MEDIA RIDE OR DIE!"At that point, we were forced to leave, but not until many passive aggressive Shakespeare verses and tawdry pun-based epithets were hurled at us while we were sent on our way.

Unfortunately, Dave Brandon was unable to be reached for comment, as he was at the Anti-Tradition League's annual Anti-Tradition Cosmic Bowling tournament, a philanthropic event whose proceeds go directly to Michigan's burgeoning Advertising and Marketing Budget.**

We were, however, able to reach Terry Schmidt, Brandon's lead marketing guru and assistant to the AD.

"We're really excited about what we've got in store for that Thursday at Utah. Let's just say we've got some pretty revolutionary ideas cooking up there in the ol' noggin', some things that will really get our principal market demograpics goin'," Schmidt said, somewhat ambiguously pointing to the box of pizza on his desk and then to the Michigan jersey on the wall.

We returned to Tweedington to ask if he had any thoughts about what Schmidt had told us. Tweedington sighed dramatically before walking over to the gramophone in the corner of his study and playing his vinyl copy of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata", which was notably scuffed, bearing the telltale markings of overuse.

Some fans are dealing with the news differently than others, but make no mistake about it: whether it triggers the end of the world or not, change is coming. Clear your evenings on Sept. 3, 2015, Michigan fans. You're going to be watching football, whether you like it or not.
*A traditional news outlet HTing a blog...ha! It's almost as if this post is facetious in nature!
**Brought to you by Arby's.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 6/26/2012

Listen up kids. Elvis Grbac has something to tell you (via Wolverine Historian):

Things That That You Already Knew. Sippin' On Purple compiles all the fancy numbers that confirm what we already knew about Northwestern basketball and why it hasn't been able to break through and get that first Big Dance invite:

Northwestern since 2009

Northwestern measures up admirably to the rest of the conference in adjusted offensive efficiency throughout the last four years, coming in 4th (two spots ahead of 6th-ranked Michigan, all Beilein years of course). Defensively, however, is where we find the answers to the many questions Northwestern fans may have about why this thing hasn't found that extra something to propel it to a first ever tourney berth. The Wildcats placed dead last in the conference in adjusted defensive efficiency (Michigan was also middle of the pack here, finishing in 7th).

At this point, Bill Carmody is not exactly an unknown entity: like Beilein, he's an offense-minded coach with a history of deploying the zone on defense, a necessary strategy when your 5 is John Shurna. This likely won't change this upcoming season, which would seem to be a make or break year for Carmody in Evanston.

It will be interesting to track how recent 7'2'' commit Chier Ajou does for NU on the defensive end. Although he is very raw, the best case scenario of his development would provide Northwestern with a viable presence in the paint that has, as far as I know, never been seen in Welsh-Ryan (excepting such players that have worn the other team's colors when playing in that arena). Unfortunately for Carmody, it doesn't seem that Ajou will be a legitimate factor for at least a couple of years, although he will assuredly get playing time by virtue of being really really tall.

 Meanwhile, in West Lafayette. Pre-Snap Read previews Purdue, who falls at the #73 spot in Myerberg's offseason preview series. On the ridiculous QB situation in WL:
All signs point to Purdue again going with a rotation at quarterback. But will it be a two-man rotation or will all three quarterbacks earn snaps in this offense? The Boilermakers would be wise to stick with two – but wiser to go with one full-time starter. One reason why the options should be Marve and TerBush: Henry is the only one of the three who can make an impact in other ways. With not much separating the three, Purdue could shift Henry out to receiver and get him in space, perhaps bringing him into shotgun in certain packages. If fully recovered from last year’s knee injury, the former starter can be a difference-maker if used correctly.
 I have a tendency to whittle various teams' prospects down to a question of how their quarterback will do, but I think that this is especially true in Purdue's case. In spite of the Boilers' anemic offense of late, PU does boast some solid options at the skill positions, namely Antavian Edison at receiver, Akeem Shavers at tailback, and WR/special teams speedster Raheem Mostert.

The defense is of course an issue, and I'm not sure how I feel about new defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar, who came to WL from the CFL. With that said, change was needed on the defensive side of the ball, and Tibesar does have a big time player in Kawann Short to work with up front.

In the end, Hope's 2-year extension through 2016 and last year's bowl appearance lead me to believe that simply appearing in another bowl game this season would constitute a big victory for the Purdue football program. None of the options at QB are particularly exciting, but I think that having the ability to pick one and stick with him will go a long way toward locking up a second straight bowl appearance. I think a six or seven win season is in the cards for Purdue this season. Baby steps.

Tommy Rees still around, working out and such. Tommy Rees is still enrolled and going through summer workouts (see: ALL THE STADIUM STEPS), which would lead one to believe that his status as a ND football player won't be in danger come fall, barring any additional legal missteps.

I only mention this to note that, while it is easy and sometimes funny to make fun of Rees's propensity for turning the ball over in an untimely fashion--are turnovers ever timely?--he was the guy who put up the following stat line on Mattison's defense last season: 27/39, 315 yards, 3 TDs (and 2 INTs). Take out the unforced turnovers and Rees had an excellent game against what turned out to be a top notch Michigan defense. Yes, Michael Floyd is gone and Michigan now has an entire year of game experience in Mattison's defensive system, but still. We are not exactly in a position to scoff at the QB of a team that we were very lucky to beat last year.

I think ND is best served with Rees at the helm early on in the season, in spite of what was a strong spring for Everett Golson. Laugh if you must, but if Rees finds himself booted from the team between now and September for whatever reason, that would be a not insignificant loss and certainly one that would up Michigan's chances of winning in South Bend this September.

 New contracts for basketball assistants Alexander, Meyer, Jordan. Michigan re-upped assistant basketball coaches Bacari Alexander, LaVall Jordan, and Jeff Meyer, who are by all accounts excellent basketball coaches when they are not busy #HALOLing and retweeting motivational quotes.

This is a big deal and a great move for the Michigan program going forward. It's often very easy to attribute all of the success or failure of a program to the head coach and the head coach alone, but I would imagine that Beilein himself would tell you that he couldn't have done any of this alone. In any case, this is good for the continuity of the program and represents one step further away from the athletic department's prior M.O. of extreme stinginess with respect to assistant coaches.

Alexander, particularly, seems like an assistant poised to snag some sort of head coaching job at some point (he's only 35), so this was a smart and probably obvious move for the AD. If you need any more convincing, head to your recruiting outlet of choice and check out how Michigan's recruiting efforts are doing...these guys can recruit, obviously, and you never know how a replacement might do in this crucial aspect of the coaching game.

In this case, it's "mo' money, less problems."

More? BREAKING: Jim Harbaugh is a big meanie per CBS NFL writer Mike Freeman. Okay then.  Andrew Gribble of previews Michigan...a note: I haven't read the comments for this article, but it's generally best to avoid the comment sections at You've been warned.

Grantland on Royce White's draft prospects vis-a-vis his struggles with anxiety disorder...this is tangentially relevant only because Michigan faced off against White's ISU Cyclones this past season. Still interesting, though.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Few NHL Draft Notes

Some quick NHL Draft points while I wait for the France-Spain showdown:

--Winnipeg selected Michigan freshman-to-be Jacob Trouba in the first round with the 9th overall pick. Trouba is the first Michigan first-rounder since Pacioretty in 2007. I'm admittedly not all that locked into the draft process and junior hockey in general (my college hockey knowledge is almost entirely limited to what I know about Michigan), but this is an impressive accomplishment for Trouba. In a seemingly uncharacteristically defense-heavy first round (9 of the top 10 picks were defensemen), this is a strong indicator of the kind of quality Trouba will bring to the Michigan blue line this upcoming season.

A couple things from the Winnipeg Free Press article on the selection:
Trouba is not likely done growing.
"He's a big strong person right now that's going to continue to grow and fill out," Cheveldayoff said.
"My dad is 6-8 and my uncle is 7-1," Trouba said. "My grandfather is 6-8. I come from a big family. I'd like to grow another inch or two."
Trouba is already 6'2'', so any further growth would probably necessitate some lame "MAYBE THIS GUY CAN PLAY A LITTLE FOR JOHN BEILEIN EH AM I RIGHT GUYS?" type jokes.

Danton Cole--Trouba's coach for two seasons with the US national development team--on Trouba:
"We always compare him to a shark out on the ice. He's got a real good edge to him and competes, handles himself like a real pro.
Naturally, he did not last until the 17th pick where San Jose was selecting. Sorry...I'm so sorry. I had to.

FWIW, NHLN analyst Craig Button compared Trouba to Adam Foote. In other Craig Button-related news, he compared D Matthew Dumba--the 7th overall pick to Minnesota--to Charles Woodson. Yes, that Charles Woodson.

--Later on, the Carolina Hurricanes selected Michigan F Phil Di Giuseppe with the 38th overall pick. Again, I'm not as locked into the college/juniors transition to the NHL as many others in the Michigan community, but it seems that Michigan isn't really in danger of seeing any of these guys take the jump to the professional ranks, which is very nice indeed. Hopefully PDG can build upon what was a pretty solid freshman year this upcoming season.

--Michigan commit Boo Nieves was taken with the 59th overall pick by the Rangers. The NYR SB Nation blog, Blueshirt Banter, writes:

According to Corey Pronman, Nieves is considered "High-end if not an elite skater with great puck skills." There were some scouts that even considered him the smoothest and faster skater among all players in the draft. Combined with his elite skating package, he also has great vision, which goes hand-in-hand with his playmaking abilities.
He sounded like a potential first-rounder at one point, so it seems like he maybe slipped a little farther down the board than expected.

--With the 137th overall pick, the Washington Capitals took 2012 Michigan commit D Connor Carrick. All I really know about him is that Brian has described him as a "bigger version of Langlais" multiple times.

--Lastly, this has nothing to do with Michigan, a Blackhawks fan, I can't wait to hear Pat Foley try to pronounce Teuvo Teravainen's name one day.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion Time

This week in shameless self-promotion:
  • I talk about Craig Roh some. He is awesome, but can he consume enough Cottage Inn pizzas between now and September in order to be an effective SDE? Once we get closer to football, the whole "I can't believe that guy is actually a senior" sentiment is going to start hitting me pretty hard re: Roh. 
  • I write a mostly aimless piece about Ohio State, detailing: why it's just about time to move on from last year's win, a brief rundown of both sides of the ball for the Buckeyes, and why Urban Meyer=Napoleon Bonaparte. Basically, that post is what happens when you try to form coherent thoughts after midnight. 
  • A general note regarding last night's Game 5: as a Bulls fan, I really have no reason to say anything even remotely positive about the Miami Heat. However, if you're still hating on LeBron for leaving Cleveland, The Decision, or any other probably misguided reason (HE'S NOT CLUTCH PAWWWLLLLL), then you have effectively outed yourself as part of the avid and detestable First Take-watching demographic. Good job, you are terrible! Now that LBJ finally got his ring, can we all agree to stop saying stupid things about LeBron James, Internet? As unfortunate as "The Decision" was, LBJ has always struck me as a hard-working and humble guy who simply wants to win and be liked. As terrible as the ending of this Bulls season was, I find myself feeling genuinely happy for LeBron. You can also throw Chris Bosh in the mix here, as I've never really understood why he gets so much flak, facetiously or otherwise. 
  • And now we enter the terrifying part of the offseason that is "there is nothing but baseball on." Hang in there, will be back before you know it.  

On Cue

It's almost as if ESPN read my post from Wednesday and immediately put on its trolliest of trollfaces:
The world's best known sports tweeter is indeed headed back to ESPN. CNBC's Darren Rovell, who worked at ESPN prior to joining CNBC in 2006, is returning to the WorldWide Leader. Several sources including The Big Lead, Deadspin, and Jim Miller have reported the news already with TBL saying the deal is done.
So, yeah. The funny--well, not so funny--thing is, this doesn't fit into either of the two scenarios that I outlined. Now, ESPN is not only adding to it arsenal of mediocrity, it is doing by bringing back a guy that already worked there before. In the end, he's just one more guy at ESPN that most people don't seem to like,* but I just thought that the timing of this hiring was amusing in light of Wednesday's post.

In other news that's actually kind of encouraging, I was alerted to the existence of this article by Chris of BWS. The main gist:
Sure enough, shortly after Horowitz took over, the show's ratings shot up. In July, the month before he began at First Take, the show averaged 223,000 viewers per day, according to Nielsen. By January, that figure had jumped to 420,000 viewers per day. The show saw total viewer increases for each of Horowitz's first six months as producer, according to Nielsen numbers, and ESPN PR went into hyperdrive promoting the great new success.
But those numbers didn't hold. First Take has seen a decline in its ratings in three out of the last four months. It started in February when the show averaged 338,000 viewers, down from the show's January high. Total viewers averaged 349,000 per show in May, down from 367,000 in April.
I'm not quite convinced that we've seen the beginning of the end of this tomfoolery because this slight dip: a) is slight and b) coincides with not-football-season. If ratings continue to go down during the fall and winter months, then we can all begin to Swanson dance sans inhibition.

In other other news, I didn't accidentally turn on ESPN's pregame coverage while Stephen A. and Skip happened to be on yesterday (I'm assuming they were on at some point)...success!

*Then again, there almost always certain things that have fans, things that you wouldn't think do. For example: Creed, Jersey Shore, dubstep, Michael Bay movies, unsweetened tea. These are all things that people, somewhere, enjoy and consume on a regular basis. Think of something terrible, anything. Odds are, thousands of people like that thing. Thus, it logically follows that somebody must enjoy the work of Bayless, SAS, Rovell, etc. A harrowing thought indeed. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

ESPN, Skip Bayless, and Where This Is All Going

It's the middle of June, well past the midpoint of this montrosity we call the "offseason" but nowhere near the beginning of actual, live football. As such, I may or may not write about things other than college football/basketball here between now and September. This will be one of those things. This is without a doubt a college football-centric enterprise--if an unremarkable blog such as this one can even be called an "enterprise"--but I am an ardent supporter/follower of other sports, namely professional basketball, football, baseball, and hockey. Whether this sort of devotion is healthy or even desirable for a human being is a question for another day. Nonetheless, I like sports and I like writing about them, and this is my place to do that, even if it goes by and large unread. Posts on these topics might not fit the general focus of this blog, but...what the heck. 
As the pregame coverage of last night's Game 4 between the Heat and Thunder began, ESPN went courtside to Miami for a brief segment featuring those paragons of journalistic excellence, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless. At this point, the blogosphere's main weapon in the fight against the MSM's unceasing inanity--the "fisking"--would be admittedly somewhat pointless here. We all know that Stephen A. and Skip are nothing more than actors playing a part, or "caricatures" as Chris of Burgeoning Wolverine Star put it last night. They are glorified provocateurs. However, if they were as universally reviled as many would hope, they would, in theory, not continue to appear on ESPN in their current forms.

Yet, it seems that it has come to a breaking point. Something about yesterday's brief segment struck me as absurd, even more than is normally the case re: SAS and Skip. As Stephen A. and Skip "debated" the issues, I became a little sad about the state of affairs in the world of sports coverage. I put the word debate in quotes because it is First Take's own descriptor for what supposedly goes on at that show. Before every segment, Jay Crawford (or whoever was the debate moderator on a given day), would say something like "so let's start the debate," something which would be said with the glee of a person about to engage in gossip rather than reasoned dialogue. Then Skip and whatever poor souls forced to confront him on that day would start to "debate." Maybe it's a semantic point, but I always laughed because it is always so forced and artificial. Actual debate needs no preface. Without delving too much into the world of politics, First Take is nothing more than a political Crossfire-esque show, rife with verbal gunshots fired indiscriminately and without any sort of pointedness or unifying rationale other than "I must win this debate." Perhaps the thing that took me aback the most is that the duo were outside of the controlled environment that is the First Take studio. I don't know if I've missed other such courtside appearances from these two during this NBA Finals series, but last night was the first time I noticed this. It was strange, as if ESPN was letting a genie outside of the First Take bottle, only instead of a genial, Robin Williams-voiced wish granting genie, ESPN was unleashing SAS and Skip on the masses. Pandora doesn't go back in the box.

I have already forgotten what exactly was said during this brief segment. As usual, it was full of histrionics and ridiculous assertions bereft of meaning, naked narratives showing the nitty gritty of their flawed infrastructures, stripped bare of anything that can be termed enlightening or meaningful. It sort of reminds me of the modern generic action movie trailer, which always features some combination of the following things: explosions, the protagonist making out with an attractive woman, the protagonist and his cohorts huddled around a table in a dimly-lit room discussing how they were going to get back at Generic Villain Guy for that thing that he did, and, finally, one last explosion which shows the protagonist heroically running away from said explosion and then doing some sort of front flip/outrageous dive (which, to me, is about as useful as sliding into first base as far as running away from explosions go). To make a long story short: they're both narratives without depth that are easily duplicable, never innovative, and almost always laughably bad.

Skip hemmed and hawed about something, and, as per the script, Stephen A. engaged in a series of what can most accurately be termed acting. He examined his cuticles, he feigned boredom, he looked off apathetically into the distance, his eyelids drooped in a gesture of faux sleepiness. The only thing he did not do was pull out a newspaper with a front page headline of "CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS GUY?" and read while Skip yell-talked at him. Despite being completely useless as a piece of reporting, the entire thing was childish and unprofessional. Keep in mind, this is part of ESPN's coverage of the NBA Finals, the highest stage of basketball competition that exists anywhere in the known universe (not to knock the quality of competition on, say, Mars...I SEE YOU OLYMPUS MONS ACADEMY).

For all the good that ESPN has done for the sporting world over the years, the rise of Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith, and others of their ilk, represents a watershed moment for the world of sports. In spite of the efforts of other entities (i.e. NBC Sports), it appears that ESPN's monopoly on the coverage of the world of sports will continue to exist into the foreseeable future. The question is: what's next? Unfortunately, I feel that the "serious" sports fan's condition is akin to that of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting For Godot; that is, waiting for something that will probably never come in a climate of tragicomic absurdity.

 It is clear that ESPN has long since made its choice: it has sold its soul to a cadre of actors masquerading as sports information disseminators. There are seemingly two equally unappealing long-term consequences of this conscious decision: 
  • ESPN will continue to give air time to these sorts of folks, much to the chagrin of the aforementioned "serious" fan. Sports coverage at the WWL will continue to stagnate. It will continue to be uninformative and centered around staged "debates," strong takes, psychoanalysis of guys paid to play a game, and platitudes. It will continue to be terrible, but there will also be no other options unless NBC Sports or some other entity really steps its game up (which seems unlikely). 
  • As the years pass--I'm talking long-term here--a new wave of sports personalities will replace the aforementioned provocateurs...only they will be no less terrible, generally. ESPN may gradually lose some viewers over time, but those losses will simply be offset by a new generation of fans who seek ESPN's brand of sports info-tainment.* Business will still be booming, and, again, nobody else will even be able to come close to matching the sorts of publicity, TV deals, etc. that ESPN can so lavishly bestow upon the sporting world's most profitable and popular brands (unfortunately, the NHL does not apparently fall under this umbrella). 
*You may point to Grantland as proof that "see, ESPN is trying!", but that just isn't enough, as laudable as that venture is. At this point, Grantland is still just filling a niche. Maybe I am being naive, but I feel like there can be so much more. 

Aside from the at this point redundant "fisking" of folks like Bayless et al, this discussion brings perhaps the most important point to the fore: the role of the fan in sports media consumption. Where does this all go from here? If SB Nation's rise to prominence, the decline of traditional print media, and the mere existence of something like NBC Sports are any indication, there is no doubt that this isn't a business completely immune to the magic wand of progress and/or change. This is good news, but it does not mean that these things are enough to yield substantive change in the way that sports are covered. 

It is a little reductive, I admit, to divide all sports fans into "serious" and "miscellaneous sports entertainment seekers of varying seriousness." Still, it is a distinction that needs to be made, mostly vis-a-vis demographics. As the current generation of "serious" fans grows older, will the next generation follow in its footsteps? Will the current generation represent the last generation? What about the so called "other" fan, a group which would seem to span across all ages? As much as frequenters of "the blogs" universally mock the commenters of Yahoo!, ESPN, and other MSM outlets, the fact remains that it is 2012, and these sorts of people still exist in large numbers. A medical statistic from the Surgeon General for you**: the next time you find yourself amongst a large congregation of people, look to your left and then to your right. Odds are, one of these people has written a "CHRIS CHASE IS THE WORST PERSON EVER!!!!111!!111" comment somewhere on the Internet. 

Here's what it comes down to. ESPN's current chosen model of glitzy, Hollywood-ized sports coverage and subsidized trolling seems to be, in my mind, one with a limited ceiling. It has only been so successful because it has piggybacked onto ESPN's long legacy of what was at one point supposedly universally respected. This is not exactly Newton standing on the shoulders of giants, if you will, but you know what I mean. As the Skip and Stephen A. Show becomes more and more absurd in the eyes of more and more people, there just has to be a point when ESPN decides to tone it down or go in another direction. Or, maybe not. Either way, it seems that this strategical resource has already been voraciously tapped. I have no doubt that Skip will continue to say ridiculous things about Tim Tebow, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and others, but I think that even the Worst Sort of Fan will become tired of it all much sooner than ESPN would hope. 

At the same time, I have to question how much further the domain of the "serious" fan can advance. For the most part, yes, I am referring to the blogosphere. MGoBlog (and other team-specific independent blogs), SB Nation's recent expansion into the realm of original video content,  Grantland, and other non-traditional media, are all magnificent but seem to attract only a certain sort of fan. On second thought, it's not even about a "sort" of fan (i.e. quality), it's that anyone who is going to be a regular reader of MGoBlog, EDSBS, Grantland, and so on...probably already is one. Maybe I am being cynical***, but it seems as if these media are already, in a sense, tapped out. This, if accurate, is more than a little depressing, since the aforementioned MSM parallel in this discussion of ceilings is...Skip Bayless. The horror, the horror. 

So, it would seem that we are in for a bit of a standstill in the short to medium-term. I'm not sure where this all goes from here. Like most things on this planet, it seems that change will occur at a snail's pace and not before significant backlash, obstruction, and general difficulties. 

All we have at this point are a laundry list of questions. Is sports media and the sports fan a sort of feedback loop? That is, does the sports media mold the fan, or does the General Will of the fan--if one exists, which, given the ham-fisted distinctions I've made here, probably doesn't--directly force the hand of the sports media establishment? As a self-anointed "serious" fan, I have to say that I am skeptical about the latter. Thus, it logically follows that "change," a stand-in for "better," can only come from the establishment.**** Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some "pretending to not watch ESPN while waiting for my tardy friend Godot" to do. 

**May not be an actual statistic. 

***Also, now that I've reached the end here, I realize that perhaps I am underestimating the role of ESPN/traditional media's sizable head start on "new media," whether we're talking about blogs or any of their related variants. 

****All of this was probably better left to someone with some sort of Ph.D. on the subject, but...oh well. What's done is done. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 6/19/2012

Initiate Week 3 of Operation Don't Talk About Playoffs/Realignment/General College Football Bureaucratic Tomfoolery. Let's see if I can succeed in not passive-agressively hinting that the SEC should secede and leave the rest of us alone falling into the trap that is "thinking that any meaningful discussion about these topics can be had."

This is where we talk about "The Michigan Difference" sans irony. Regardless of how you feel about the recent uptick in "ban college football" sentiment, one thing is obvious: head injuries and head trauma are serious things which demand serious attention. It is of course not entirely clear what the scope of head injuries may be, especially in light of the tragic suicides of football players (such as Dave Duerson, Junior Seau, and UPenn's Owen Thomas)...of course, correlation is not causation. However, I would argue that it is much better to express so called "undue" concern over something such as this as opposed to a paucity of it. Nonchalantly tsk-tsking at those who might want to worry about this sort of thing--even those who perhaps inaccurately want to ascribe a causal relationship between concussions and depression, suicide, etc.--does not make that person more of a man.

Saving you any further pontification, it's important to note that various entities are taking this issue seriously. Of course, Michigan seems to be one such entity that is leading the way in concussion research:
Michigan is the only Big Ten football team with a full-time staffer dedicated to head injuries. Kutcher, who was hired by the university's medical school in 2003 and began working as a part-time volunteer with the athletic department shortly after that, said he isn't aware of another FBS team that employs someone such as himself.
That has helped propel the Wolverines to the frontier of concussion research, protocol and prevention.
"Leaders and best" and whatnot. As gratifying as success on the football field is, it's things like this that make you truly proud of the U. One of the more topical points in the article touches on concussion prevention:
Michigan also is working to prevent concussions from happening in the first place. That starts with outfitting players with proper equipment, such as a well-fit helmet.
Quarterback Denard Robinson switched helmets before last season, for example. After meeting with equipment manager Jon Falk, Robinson, a dual-threat quarterback who has averaged 18.3 carries per game as a starter and is susceptible to withering collisions because of his speed, elected to swap his Riddell for a better-fitting -- and, in his case, safer -- Schutt.
 It is a little bit terrifying that we know so relatively little about concussions (and even the brain itself) in the year 2012, a year which carries vague notions of progress even while we are still in the dark with respect to so many pressing matters. It speaks to the ridiculous complexity of the thing we call a brain, the internal software that drives all of our actions and, throughout the average football game, finds itself rattling against the hard walls of the skull dozens of times. In any case, good on the U for helping to take the lead in this, because this is not an issue that will (or should) go away as long as "student-athletes" are not getting paid.

RIP Bob Chappuis. You already know about this by now, but Michigan great Bob Chappuis, of the 1947 "Mad Magicians," passed away last week. Chappuis's career was obviously before my time, but his exploits were truly something at which to marvel.

Odds are, you, like me, are not even close to being old enough to truly understand who Bob Chappuis was; sadly, most of us can only attempt to cobble together some sort of understanding in a second-hand nature, like attempting to explain a sunset to a blind man.

Acquired understanding is awkward and not nearly as satisfying as having been there, but it is something nonetheless. It is primarily for this reason that I think a site like MVictors is an unbelievable treasure as a source of historical recollection, one whose value cannot be understated. MVictors, like any other source of historical scholarship, attempts--and very obviously succeeds--to provide a colorful, well-defined, and edifying lifeline to the past, a past which the average fan may not have the ability with which to connect.

People will often discredit Michigan's accomplishments as a football program because "who cares about anything that happened before this point which I arbitrarily determined is the point at which things starter to matter or count." This people are not only extremely misguided, they are depriving themselves of a vast and tremendous history. Will this era of college football be rendered "meaningless" by the generations of the distant future? Assuming that college football will still be played well into the twilight of this century, I would hope that the answer is no. If that is in fact the case, then there is no reason to discredit or scoff at the college football world before 1950 (or whatever arbitrary date it is that people often to use). 

Bob Chappuis and many other Michigan football players of that era were not only multi-sport stars, they went and fought "over there," only to come back and keep playing football at a very high levelThink about how ridiculous and amazing and compelling that is. Think about how different things once were. The Michigan community has lost a by all accounts great football player and an even better man...RIP. 

Feldman on MSU's OL, Denard. Two points of interest from Feldman's recent mailbag. First, Feldman puts Denard at #5 on his Heisman list for 2012 (tied with Landry Jones), which, okay whatever. It's the Heisman. The more important point comes via his answer to a question regarding the Boise State-MSU game and their respective QB situations: 
The decided advantage goes to Michigan State. The reason: The Spartans return the much better defense. BSU has two starters returning on D. MSU has eight. The Spartans also are set up better to rely on their ground game with Le'Veon Bell and arguably the Big Ten's top O-line.
I mention this if for no other reason than to say man oh man how quickly perception changes sometimes. Remember how after last year's MSU-ND game we are all banking on the fact that the MSU offensive line was not very good? Well, not only did they push Michigan's front 7 around last year (despite the Spartans not really being a great rushing team most of the year), they seemed to get better as the year went on. I got to thinking about Feldman's "best in the Big Ten" assessment and it definitely holds water. 

 Michigan will have a solid if still undersized line; I feel pretty comfortable about the tackles but the guys on the interior present some question marks. Ohio State has to replace Adams, Brewster, and Shugarts, while also attempting to transition to Urban Meyer's power spread offense. Otherwise, Wisconsin seems like the primary competition for best OL in the conference. As always, I'm sure they will continue the tradition of gargantuan offensive linemen, even on the heels of the departures of standouts like Kevin Zeitler, Josh Oglesby, and Peter Konz. 

It's anybody's guess how good the Spartan OL will actually be, but, as a general note, it's pretty crazy how perception has shifted from "that OL is a complete and utter sieve" circa September 2011 to "hey, that OL might be the best in the conference" circa right about now. If anything, this is an example of how continuity and a certain lineup merely accumulating starts as a group can lead to marked improvement...not exactly earth-shattering news, I know. 

In other news: heroball is still stupid. I always feel ridiculously hypocritical when railing against the aesthetics-destroying monstrosity that is heroball, mostly because I grew up watching and celebrating the exploits of one Michael Jeffrey Jordan. Still, it is important to remember that even MJ passed the ball in key moments. It's okay, guys...LBJ passing the ball to an open Udonis Haslem for a 15-footer will not bring on the Apocalypse: 


Anyway, the WSJ is the latest to take on the beast that is heroball, in light of the recent uptick in late game heroball situations:
A star who doesn't take charge in the final seconds can come under fire. During the      Eastern Conference finals, as Miami's LeBron James drove toward the basket with time expiring in a knotted Game 4 against Boston, he didn't shoot—passing the ball instead to teammate Udonis Haslem, who missed. After the Heat lost the game in overtime, James drew fire from fans and analysts because he hadn't taken the shot himself. Very few people seemed to care that James had three Boston defenders collapsing on him.
If my memory serves me correctly, you could argue that it was actually four defenders collapsing on LeBron, which makes all the pro-heroball squawking seem even more insane. In any case, as these late game win-it-or-lose-it situations seems to be on the rise, it will be interesting to see how players, coaches, fans, and the media evolve--or devolve--with respect to the viability or heroball. 

The most eye-popping stat in the article is the fact that LeBron has supposedly only taken a mere 18% of Miami's "clutch" shots this season; as a general point, it's amazing how perception and reality can often resemble a train run off its tracks. 

Northwestern basketball lands 2012 7-footer. Northwestern basketball recently acquired the commitment of Sudanese big man Chier Ajou. Lake The Posts writes
Ajou is a native of Sudan and is also the cousin of Bulls forward Luol Deng. Northwestern basketball fans have been smarting after a pair of basketball recruiting snags, namely the lack of admission of 2012 recruit and sharpshooter Mislav Brzoja and the parting of ways with 2013 recruit Milos Kostic. Ajou has had quite a tragic backstory according to the Chicago Tribune which reference the fact he lost and two brothers in the war in Sudan and his father past away as well (however those details are less clear) before moving to the US in 2008.
As expressed in the comments, there seems to be some concern as to whether or not Ajou will even qualify academically. In light of Northwestern's denial of Croatian guard Mislav Brzoja on academic grounds, this seems a bit odd (especially for a school like Northwestern). Brzoja supposedly had a 4.0 at Trader's Point Christian Academy in Indiana, but his cumulative GPA was already essentially torpedoed by less than stellar academic performance in his native Croatia. I don't much care for speculation regarding the grades of football or basketball recruits, particularly since so much misinformation often exists when it comes to this sort of thing. 

At the same time, Ajou's journey will be one to follow as an example of how a school that generally places academics above athletics goes about handling academically borderline prospects. As a general aside, I've noticed many Wildcat fans expressing the sentiment of late--on 
Northwestern blogs, message boards, etc.--that typically goes something along the lines of "see, even we sometimes admit borderline cases in spite of what our reputation would otherwise indicate." 

Schools like Northwestern are still a cut above almost everyone in the FBS when it comes to academic standards in athletics,* but it's interesting to see that this sort of thing even happens at NU. As someone who will be attending grad school at Northwestern this fall, it will be interesting to monitor the differences between Michigan and Northwestern when it comes to perception vs. reality vis-a-vis the stringency of academic standards in athletics.

*Yes, Michigan fans...I hate to break it to you, but we are not in Northwestern's league in this respect.

More? It's OSU week over at Maize n Brew. More good stuff about Mark Donnal on the heels of his performance at the NBPA camp (via UMHoops)...for some reason, I have a feeling that he's going to eventually replace JMo as the non-star Wolverine who I somewhat irrationally enjoy watching play the game. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion Time

This week in self-promotion:

  • I wrote a brief-ish (for me, at least) rundown of Cam Gordon and where he fits onto the defensive two-deep going forward. It still seems a shame to me that he lost his job due to injury, but I still believe that he can and should have a role in 2012 (and 2013 if he's coming back for the ol' victory lap). 
  • As a part of MnB's Iowa week, I decided to write about someone who I think hasn't received enough attention over the years (not that he would want it): Norm Parker, recently retired Iowa defensive coordinator. I don't think that people are making a big enough deal about the fact that Iowa is losing not one but two coordinators, both of whom joined Ferentz right at the onset of his tenure in Iowa City back in 1999. I would advise you to also check out the rest of this week's Iowa-centric posts, as they are all very good. If you want to educate yourself on the rest of the Big Ten before the season starts, you should be reading Maize n Brew. Trust me, it helps these trying summer months go by faster. 
Anyway, a few more quick Friday links: 
  • Head over to UMHoops for live updates on who Beilein and Co. are offering. It is not a great time to be a Badger fan a recruit's cell phone. 
  • If you missed it, Ireland fans singing "The Fields of Athenry" yesterday despite watching their team get methodically destroyed by Spain...was one of the coolest things I've seen/heard in a while. Imagine if the Big House had burst into a seemingly never-ending chorus of The Victors throughout the entire fourth quarter of the 2007 Oregon game: 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 6/14/2012

I know that it's the middle of June, but I've decided to continue my newly minted policy of not discussing realignment, playoff scenarios, etc. It's for the best. As long as you understand that it all boils down to each entity looking out solely for its own interests, it all becomes transparently not worth expressing much righteous indignation over. The fact is, we are destined to have some sort of playoff...and it will probably be a stupid one. So it goes. 
Michigan fans take to the streets to express their displeasure over the coaching staff's extension of a scholarship offer to a long snapper...definitely not soccer hooligans in Poland.

On the importance of long snappers. Now, I don't mean to set the precedent that because Nick Saban is doing something, that something is inherently good or valid, but...regarding the mini-uproar over Hoke's scholarship offer to long snapper Scott Syniewski, here's this on Saban's recruitment of long snapper Cole Mazza:
According to BamaOnline, Saban did something at last week's special teams camp in Tuscaloosa that he's never done in his 17-year career -- offered a scholarship to a long snapper.
But but oversigning! Okay yes, whatever, guy. Still, I'm going to go ahead and say that the staff knows more about what Michigan needs than various recruiting obsessees on the Internet. Classes are not only a collection of players that provide certain talents and skill sets, they fill specific needs, ranging from "need a big wide receiver" to something as hyper-specialized as "need guy to snap the ball really far every once in a while." In the end, nobody will remember whether or not this class was #1 or #5 or #842 in four years, just as long as the guy brought in to snap can snap, the receivers catch, the linemen block, the linebackers tackle, the quarterbacks complete passes, and so on and so forth.

In short: trust the coaches, over-anxious star-gazer.

Big Ten wide receiving talent...not so great. In spite of the popular notion that the Big Ten is some slow, plodding conference that still gets a print newspaper delivered every week and receives its milk via milk man, the conference has put out its fair share of wide receiving talent over the years. However, this does not appear to be one of those years, as the position group across the entire league seems to be a glaring weakness.

ESPN's Big Ten blog asks who the best B1G's receiver is, with the options being: Keenan Davis, Jared Abbrederis, Roy Roundtree and Justin Brown. No offense to any of those guys, but that is a pretty uninspiring list. I'm not that old, but I can't remember the last time the talent on the perimeter was this weak in the conference.

With AJ Jenkins, Junior Hemingway (and Stonum, I guess), DeVier Posey, Derek Moye, Marvin McNutt, Jeremy Ebert, Nick Toon, and Damarlo Belcher all having moved on for one reason or another, the conference will be sorely lacking in proven talent at WR. I would imagine that this will translate to less big plays in 2012 than there were in 2011.

Michigan will need Roy Roundtree to return to form and at least one of Jerald Robinson, Darboh, and Chesson to step up. Ohio State needs guys like Evan Spencer, Devin Smith, and Verlon Reed to step up, and early enrollee Michael Thomas is also probably in the mix there as well. Northwestern is hoping to get USC transfer Kyle Prater eligible to play this season. Keenan Davis and Justin Brown look to take over for McNutt and Moye as the #1 receiving options at Iowa and PSU, respectively.

It's going to be an interesting year on offense, and by "interesting" I mean "probably conforming to the aforementioned B1G stereotypes." Let's hope the newspaper doesn't land right on that puddle over there.

Think about the kids, fergodsakes. Okay, so I'm sort of breaking the "no playoff talk" rule here, but I just wanted to note this in order to add...
"Whatever happens, here’s the only thing I hope: I hope they think about the kids, and the families of those kids who are out there on the field, because how many games do we want to play?" Hoke said this week during a meeting with the Michigan Associated Press Sports Editors at Weber’s Inn in Ann Arbor.
"These are not professional athletes. They are student-athletes. They have classes."
...that Hoke is one of a tiny clique of folks in college football that can invoke "the kids" without me completely rolling my eyes. That is all.

Nebraska fans at Ryan Field. Northwestern blog Lake the Posts discusses Nebraska's upcoming visit to Ryan Field this season and what can be done to limit their numbers. If for nothing else, it's worth clicking through to watch video of the famous 2000 Nebraska-Notre Dame game in which Husker fans made Notre Dame Stadium look like this:

Of course, as we all know, the problem of fans selling their tickets to opposing fans is not one that is limited to Northwestern. Yes, I'm referring to Michigan and Michigan fans. The amount of green at the 2008 Michigan State game and the amount of scarlet at the 2009 Ohio State game were, to be quite honest, fairly embarrassing. I will never understand how people can willingly give their tickets away to a fan of a rival team like that. I get that times are tough and all, but come on.

So, reading the linked LTP's impassioned plea for NU fans to get out to Ryan Field, I started to wonder whether or not this sort of thing would stop happening in Ann Arbor. It happens far less often and on a far lesser scale, proportionally, than it does in Evanston. However, there is no excuse for the number of Spartan and Buckeye fans that have invaded the Big House in recent years.

We won't truly find out until 2013's home slate, but this year's Michigan State game will prove to be a solid litmus test in this regard, especially if Michigan happens to roll into this game with 2 losses (Alabama and ND). We all know that Spartan fans will be dying to show up to the Big House en masse this year given that MSU has the chance to win its 5th in a row, and a 2-loss Michigan team will definitely test the resolve of lesser Michigan fans (unfortunately, there are more of this type of fan than you'd think). You'd think that the success of an 11-win season would be enough to keep even the bandwagoniest fans from selling their tickets to someone wearing green, but you never know. I guess we'll find out on October 20th.

MnB's Zach Travis interviews BHGP's Patrick Vint. An all-around excellent interview at Maize n Brew, one that gives a pretty excellent picture of where Iowa football is at right now. The apex was of course the 2002-2004 run of top 10 finishes, but since then Iowa has been fairly up and down, showing brief flashes of that old brilliance (2009). Vint on the Tao of Ferentz, which sounds a lot like Lloydball except instead of slowly bleeding away a somewhat comfortable lead all the way to an excruciating loss, Kirk seems to do pretty well:
The other thing to remember is that the 2008 and 2009 teams really didn't play that many close games. What those teams played, for the most part, were two-possession games where the opponent got a late score to make it close. Iowa is deadly in those situations; Ferentz has only lost two games in thirteen years where he had a two-possession lead with 8:00 to play. Give Iowa a chance to make you drive the field, milk some clock between the tackles, and then make you drive the field again, and Ferentz will beat you. But put him in a situation where he has to tactically beat you for 8:00 and Iowa loses nearly 2 of 3 (since 2005).
Well, that sounds familiar (i.e. this past year's game at Kinnick). Note to self (Cc: Brady Hoke): don't let Kirk Ferentz be up by two scores with around 8 or so minutes left in the game.

More? MAH GAWD THAT'S URBAN MEYER'S MUSIC PLAYING AT THE SOUND MIND SOUND BODY ACADEMY IN SOUTHFIELD, MI. I admittedly don't follow basketball recruiting as much as I do football recruiting, but Vitto Brown (via UMHoops) sounds like an interesting prospect, even if he doesn't end up getting offered. An athletic 6'8'' guy playing the 3/4 with shot-blocking ability? He definitely sounds like a departure from the Beilein big guy prototype, but it's been five years and a Michigan version of Pittsnogle (or even a poor man's iteration) has yet to materialize. Maybe it's time to give up the ghost and just recruit more conventional Big Ten bigs?

I was out of town so I didn't have a chance to do a Shameless Self-Promotion post, but anyway: I wrote a thing about Purdue football and another thing about Brandon Hawthorne and Antonio Poole over at Maize n Brew last week. There, now you're caught up.