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. 


  1. The story of Bob Chappuis should be told so students know the accomplishments of a Michigan Man. He was shot down as a member of a flight crew in WWII, returned to U of M to become a star, and later became a great success in business. He loved Michigan and attended games through last year.

  2. Agreed wholeheartedly. I hope that the U/athletic department will honor his legacy in some way this season and beyond. He lived a long and amazing life worth telling about for many years to come.