Regional Action: Part 1

Like a crazy amount of other people on Friday, I went down to Ray Fisher Stadium despite the ominous forecast and sky. Walking down State street it almost felt like a football game (except it being at night and the crowd skewing older). Tons of people were making the trek down State for the game.

I got to the ticket window by 6:45 and it looked as though they’d been selling only standing room only tickets for a while. Luckily, standing room only basically meant general admission outside the grand stand. I had a camera (pictures up probably Sunday or Monday), so I figured I’d find a nice spot on the rail. Before the starting line-ups were done, the rail was full up both baselines. Two people deep at some places. Most of the bleachers were filling up too.

By the time the game started, the place was packed. The spot I found was along the 3rd baseline by the Yost entrance. It also seemed to be where the Athletic Department big wigs were handing out. Bill Martin was standing in the crowd looking as happy as I’ve ever seen him, soaking in the environment. The alumni band was in the stands led by a very energetic sousaphonist. The crowd was totally ready to go. It felt like a big league game, or at least double A.

Putnam got the start and had a shaky start. Gave up early hits and a cheap run in the second with only one out. He looked nervous. His pitches were either balls or line drives. So with one out and runners on the corners, he trying to pick off the man on first. He does this two or three times. Then he fakes the pick-off throw to first and guns it over to third and catches the runner in a pickle. That really seemed to get him going. He struck out the batter and then was lights out the rest of the night.

The bottom of the second started with Putnam up to bat. It seemed all the confidence he got at the end of the last side came from UK’s starter, Rusin. Putnam got walked on four pitches. Got over to third on a hit and run and scored on an RBI single. The Wolverines scored four more runs that inning. Luckily my friend who played baseball and understands the strategy was there to explain what was happening to me. The conclusion, Maloney has balls that Les Miles would envy. In the second inning, Maloney called two hit and runs and a suicide squeeze. Both the hit and runs advanced the runner from first to third and the squeeze scored one. Rusin was pulled before he got the second out that inning.

Michigan looked like it was cruising and Putnam was dealing, but then the lightning started and they suspended the game. I didn’t make to the Fish for the game this morning, but I’ll be heading back tonight at 7pm for the game against Arizona. Hopefully the Fish will be just as packed and ready to go as it was last night.

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Uhh… Programming Update?

Tim was supposed to come back stateside today around five. Unfortunately, during one of the last night of his stay in Australia, Tim fell from his hotel room (roughly 3-4 stories up). Luckily, an awning broke his fall and Tim is still alive and well. He suffered a back injury, but still has full mobility. I haven’t called him yet (the combination of the time change and when I found out about this made it awkward), but what I’ve heard is that he could be released from the hospital in a day or two.

Needless to say I’m relieved this didn’t end as badly as it could have. I heard a partial story earlier today and didn’t get the details and (relatively) good news until late tonight.

Until Tim gets back to prime blogging form, you’ll have to put up with updates from your’s truly. Varsity Blue is truly Tim’s blog, and I cannot hope to cover recruiting in the detail he does. Luckily, there is a baseball regional going on this weekend, and my girlfriend is letting me go to it. Hopefully I can snag a good digital camera and have a nice photo album and reactions from the first regional game tomorrow.

Tim’s regular updates will resume whenever he is able to. If you want to send your thoughts or well wishes, his e-mail address is in the menu to the right or you can click here

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State of Michigan Football, Pt. 4

“State of” in the sense that Michigan is a state, and in the sense of a condition of being. Part 4: How can the high school game be improved?

Keep Funding, Baby
Nothing will flourish if it isn’t given the proper resources, and if you throw enough money into something, it can often succeed despite its best efforts not to (except the Yankees – ZING!). Those who can should continue supporting the football programs around the state, especially those that aren’t in position to help themselves. More funding leads to better equipment and coaching, which inevitably leads to better quality athletes coming out.

Abolish Bad MHSAA Rules
This is one area that really holds the state’s football talent back. There are three specific MHSAA rules that I think are crap, and should be eliminated.

  1. MHSAA schools are not allowed to travel more than 300 miles for a game, nor are their opponents (there are some nuances, such as they can play anywhere in an adjacent state). This is apparently designed to prevent money from being thrown away for mere high school football games, and to relieve potential stress on high school athletes due to traveling. However, it prevents Michigan teams from playing the best teams in the country (unless they are from Ohio, Indiana, or Wisconsin), decreasing the exposure of the high school game in the state. A Herbstreit Challenge-esque event is out of the question, since it would be against this rule for Michigan teams to play anyone from Texas, California, Florida, etc.
  2. No spring practice. The intent behind this rule is either to allow kids to play other spring sports without the possibility of discipline from their football coaches, or to prevent them from playing sports year-round and wearing out their bodies. The second rationale is crap, because most football players play at least one other sport, and often two. While there is something to be gained by wide receivers and running backs participating in track (for example), not allowing spring football discourages athletes from trying to excel in this sport. In most other states (especially those that take high school football seriously, such as Ohio and Texas), spring football is a way of life.
  3. All-star participation forfeits eligibility. Current MHSAA rules state that any athlete participating in an all-star competition (such as the Army All-American Bowl or the ESPNU Under Armour Game) is ineligible for high school sports. This means that football players must make a choice between participating in an all-star contest or playing a spring (even winter, for much of basketball season falls after the new year) sport. This discourages Michigan athletes who are of a high enough caliber to participate in these contests, reducing exposure for players from the state.

More TV
This would likely take care of itself if some of the other suggestions were to come to fruition (i.e. allowing teams to play at or against Texas schools). With the death of Comcast Local, there is almost no coverage of high school sports, including football, until the state championships. This may be a chicken-and-egg argument, but with better football will come more TV, and vice versa.

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State of Michigan Football, Pt. 3

“State of” in the sense that Michigan is a state, and in the sense of a condition of being. Part 3: How can we improve the state of the state?

The University of Michigan Reigns Supreme
As the comparison to Ohio shows, perhaps states are better served by having one in-state power at the college level. While many Wolverine fans may wish that Michigan State would just go away, or drop out of the Big Ten entirely, this is never going to happen. Instead, the Wolverines must continue their dominance over the Spartans, winning over the hearts and minds of impressionable youth in the state.

The state of Michigan might not be improved by having the Spartans be a perennial cellar-dweller in the conference, but with rare victories over Michigan, and a continuance of the current run of mediocrity, Michigan State will be good enough to keep citizens interested in the sport, but not good enough to win fans over Michigan. The best-case scenario for Michigan fans would be having State win all their nonconference games each year, and dwell in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, never beating Michigan and having bowl years about half the time.

Michigan continuing its success over MSU in other sports would also help, as well as establishing a winning tradition in basketball.

More Exposure to (Good) Football
With only the Lions representing the state in the NFL, Michigan does not have a huge presence in the professional game. Especially painful is the fact that the Lions perpetually suck. However, any football helps. If the Grand Rapids Rampage could be respectable in the Arena Football League, this would also help make Michigan more of a football state.

The state should also encourage any professional league (such as the AAFL, currently on a one-year hiatus before it has even started) to establish a franchise in the state of Michigan. This increases exposure of the game to Michigan citizens, and can also help the economy of the state.

Basketball State?
One possible reason that football does not hold the hallowed place in Michigan’s culture as the game does in Ohio, for example, is that it is not the most popular sport in the state. Basketball is probably the king of the state at nearly every level, and hockey is popular in Michigan moreso than any other state (aside from Minnesota). These sports are also aided by the fact that the professional franchises

I won’t suggest that Michigan as a whole forget about these sports, but just realize that football at least as important as each of them. If many elite prep athletes in the state didn’t forgo football to focus on basketball in the offseason, Michigan would be aided as well.

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Wilpon Complex Already Paying Dividends

The University of Michigan has officially been selected as a host of one of the sixteen regional baseball tournaments. One of the reasons for this is surely the new stadium which I went to for Friday’s game against Purdue. It’s a great facility for a collegiate baseball program especially in the Midwest. With the new Ray Fisher stadium, Michigan has an advantage beyond the regional tournament.

The NCAA has let it be known that they’d like more geographical diversity in the baseball tournament. If Michigan can win its second straight regional title, they have a really good shot at hosting at the super-regional stage. Last year, if not for the construction, they likely could have hosted, but they did not have the facilities to even put in a bid. The team lost to Oregon State last year, the defending champs, out in Corvallis. With this more experienced team and home field advantage, this could be the Wolverines best chance of making it to Omaha for the College World Series.

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Mailbag: What is Success?

Would you take a 7-5 season every other year if it meant you could go 11-2 (or better, let’s say you win the NC every few tries) in the off years? Conversely, would you prefer to be 9-3 every year and never challenge for a title, or be slightly worse most years, but challenge for a national title 1 in 5 years or so?

The basic question here is whether you’d accept fairly consistent mediocrity with the occasional great year, or prefer consistent elite(ish) performance without getting to the promised land.

I’d like to never have to make that choice, but take the consistently elite years, with national championships sprinkled in here and there. Under Rich Rodriguez, I honestly believe that is a possibility, but given the theoretical “would you rather situation,” I don’t know what I’d take.

I guess I would take the elite years with no (or almost no) national championships. I find that to be better than being a program that people have a lesser opinion of, but occasionally surprises for the better. I think that the consistently elite program is more apt to break through than the consistently mediocre program (especially because successful programs have a recruiting advantage over mediocre ones except Clemson), which is why I think the premise of the question is flawed.

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Programming Update

Since I don’t have (free) access to the internet right now, expect the next major posting from me (aside from the ones I already have scheduled) to come next Friday, or maybe even Thursday depending on the amount of jet lag I am suffering.

A few people have e-mailed me questions, which I will compile into a fairly sizable mailbag on my way back from Australia, and you can also expect a fairly massive recruiting update (including such fun items as “a new commit”), along with an update to the Big Ten rankings. By the way, you have Paul to thank for finding a new basketball commit to be unworthy of a post. I might get something together on Robin Benzing when I get back as well.

See you all in less than a week.

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Isn’t This What the BTN is For?

So at 7:05pm tonight University of Michigan will take on the University of Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament. For all of us in Ann Arbor, going to the game is a great option, despite the cold weather. Luckily for fans outside of Ann Arbor, there is a network dedicated to Big Ten sports which has coverage of every single conference championship. You would think that would be the case, but here’s BTN’s line up for tonight:

While I, like other Michigan fans, would like to see how the Wolverines won the Big Ten outdoor track title, isn’t things like the baseball tournament the reason BTN was made? It seems a bit ridiculous to run a pre-produced show about the track championships almost a week after they took place instead of showing the live baseball tournament.

I like the BTN and think, eventually, it will be good for Michigan fans, but it definitely needs some work to get where it ought to be.

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State of Michigan Football, Pt. 2

“State of” in the sense that Michigan is a state, and in the sense of a condition of being. Part 2: Why does Michigan produce less D-I talent than Ohio?

Michigan and Ohio have been at odds throughout modern history. Beginning with the Toledo War and continuing through the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, there has always been a certain degree of animosity between the two. While Ohio State has the recent edge in the rivalry, Michigan holds the overall record. Despite this, more Ohio-born players have won The Game than have Michigan natives. This is because the University of Michigan has to use the state of Ohio for recruiting, while the Buckeyes don’t need to return the favor to build their team.

Prove It
To illustrate the point that Ohio produces better football talent, let’s take a look at the recent Scout player rankings. While many players ranked lower than 3 stars will eventually sign with Division I schools, let’s look at the highly-ranked players. For a sample size, we’ll consider any prospect who could feasibly be on a roster in Fall 2008 (2004-2008 recruiting classes).

2008 Final Rankings
State Scout 5* Prospects Scout 4* Prospects Scout 3* Prospects Total 3 or higher Signed by Michigan Signed by OSU
Michigan 1 6 13 20 5 0
Ohio 3 11 33 47 7 9*
2007 Final Rankings
State Scout 5* Prospects Scout 4* Prospects Scout 3* Prospects Total 3 or higher Signed by Michigan Signed by OSU
Michigan 2 11 6 19 5* 1
Ohio 2 10 31 43 0 10*
2006 Final Rankings
State Scout 5* Prospects Scout 4* Prospects Scout 3* Prospects Total 3 or higher Signed by Michigan Signed by OSU
Michigan 1 1 8 10 4* 1*
Ohio 3 17 30 50 3* 10
2005 Final Rankings
State Scout 5* Prospects Scout 4* Prospects Scout 3* Prospects Total 3 or higher Signed by Michigan Signed by OSU
Michigan 1 3 12 16 6* 0
Ohio 2 13 16 31 4 11*
2004 Final Rankings
State Scout 5* Prospects Scout 4* Prospects Scout 3* Prospects Total 3 or higher Signed by Michigan Signed by OSU
Michigan 0 5 10 15 6 1
Ohio 2 4 27 33 1 15***

(* Indicates players that were 2-stars that are included in the signing numbers).
It is clear that Ohio produces more talent than Michigan. Over the past 5 recruiting classes, Ohio has produced 204 3-star or higher players, while Michigan has produced 80. Michigan signed 26 Michigan players (including three 2-star players) and 14 Ohio players (including a single 2-star). Ohio state has signed 3 Michigan players (including one 2-star) and a whopping 55 Ohio-bred players (including six 2-star players). It is plain to see that the state of Ohio produces far more Division I players, in addition to more UM/OSU caliber guys.

Distribution of Population?
The two states produce a significant difference of players at pretty much all levels of analysis here. While this would initially lead one to believe that it was simply a higher population in one state accounting for the difference, this is not the case.

Population Statistics
State Population Density
Michigan 9,938,444 (8) 179/sq mi (15)
Ohio 11,353,140 (7) 277.26/sq mi (9)

Population density may be something of a factor (are there enough people in one location in the UP to muster up an 11-man football game?), but the differences aren’t that great, especially if you eliminate the ridiculously sparse UP (32% of Michigan’s land, but 3% of its population).

Ohio doesn’t produce more football talent just because it has more people. More nefarious mechanisms are at work here.

While it is free to go around whacking people, and cheap to get a football to toss around, playing actual organized football does have some significant costs. Individuals must incur costs to join youth leagues, and buy a fairly significant amount of equipment. Schools must invest in equipment, jerseys, staff, and other expenses, which can be a financial burden that is difficult to bear.

However, is Michigan’s economy that much worse than Ohio’s? I wouldn’t presume that this is a major factor, since Ohio has been producing much more talent seemingly since the beginning
of time. Even when the auto companies in Detroit were thriving, Ohio was producing more football players.

Perhaps the reason is simply a difference between the citizens of the two states in terms of how much they care about the game. There is no way to accurately gauge this, but I honestly believe that it is the case. While there are places in Michigan where football is very important to people, it borders on religion in most of Ohio. Part of this may be the culture of Ohio State hegemony (check out part I in this series), and there are likely other factors adding to it, but no concrete explanation.

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State of Michigan Football, Pt. 1

“State of” in the sense that Michigan is a state, and in the sense of a condition of being. Part 1: How does Ohio State continue to keep all of the best in-state talent for themselves, while Michigan players go to other schools, including USC and Michigan State?

Statewide Pipeline
The primary reason that Ohio State manages to keep all the best Ohio talent for itself is a lack of instate competition. Until Cincinnati moved to the Big East in 2005, OSU was the only BCS school in the state, and until the Big East (and Cincinnati under Brian Kelly) becomes more respected as a big-time conference (and legitimate major school), Ohio State will continue to reign supreme over its home turf. Perhaps coincidentally (or maybe not), the majority of teams in the state also share one important thing with the Buckeyes: the color red. Cincinnati, and Miami among Division I schools, and pro teams including the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians and Cavaliers have red as one of their colors. For comparison, Michigan has two main colors, which fans in their own stadium can’t even coordinate (and the pro teams share none of, unless you count the Pistons’ blue as being close enough to Michigan’s).

In Michigan, there are two BCS-level schools, both of whom compete in the Big Ten conference. While Michigan State is seen as more of a rival for non-revenue sports to Michigan fans (they concede basketball to the Spartans in exchange for football dominance), Spartan fans see the football rivalry as very real. Individuals who have been in the state for a long time can easily remember when MSU football was the big game in town (before Canham and Schembechler returned Michigan to Glory – and not in the LOL ND way). Overall, there is a near 50-50 split between Wolverine and Spartan fans in the Great Lakes State.

While having two popular schools in the state may not explain why talent is willing to leave entirely (and go to USC, for example), it certainly helps explain why there is no allegiance to a particular school. With no ties to UofM, Michigan’s players don’t feel obligated to give Michigan more of a shot. This is not the case in Ohio, where nearly every baby’s first outfit is either scarlet or gray.

In Michigan, the allegiance is not to one college team, but to one pro city, Detroit. The state throws itself behind the Tigers, Red Wings, Pistons, and (for some reason) Lions, then divides its attention between MSU and Michigan, and to a lesser extent the other state schools. I still remember the 2006 MSU game, where the score of the simultaneous Tigers game against the Yankees was announced, and Chad Henne had to take a timeout, because fans were cheering more for the Tigers (while the team that they actually paid money to see was on offense) than I have ever heard them cheer for Michigan. Ohio on the other hand, is a state united by one college team, Ohio State, and divided among several pro cities (Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus). This factor also gives the Buckeyes an in-state advantage.

It isn’t likely that UCincinnati ever becomes as ingrained into Ohio culture like the Buckeyes are, and Michigan State, while always little brother, isn’t going to go away any time soon. In-state, Michigan will always be disadvantaged in the Mitten compared to Ohio in the… uh… heart-shaped thing.

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