March 22, 2012

Borton's Blog: News and views

Wipeout Wednesday brought with it a dramatic change in Michigan's basketball roster, the potential for an even bigger bombshell and a league boss going draconian. Sounds like it's time for some News And Views.

News: Three Michigan basketball players opt to transfer. Sophomores Evan Smotrycz and Colton Christian, along with freshman Carlton Brundidge, are moving on.

Views: It's no shocker on Christian and Brundidge. Those two played very limited minutes for the Wolverines, and will no doubt search for greener basketball pastures. Folks are a little more skeptical of the Brundidge move, given that he was rated higher by some than Big Ten Freshman of the Year Trey Burke in high school.

So much for rankings, in this case. Burke clearly came in and took over, while Brundidge struggled with Michigan's offense, with his own health at times, and with the overall situation. He wasn't even Burke's clear backup at the point by season's end, and will understandably seek a situation better for him.

Smotrycz is obviously the biggest loss of the three, but just as clearly didn't like his position in the new Michigan basketball world. He could and did deliver performances that assisted in U-M winning a Big Ten championship, posting the highest three-point percentage (43.5) of any U-M regulars.

His 6-for-7 shooting effort and 17 points at Penn State late in the season helped Michigan hold off the Nittany Lions and stay in the Big Ten race. His 6-for-7 shooting and 15 points in the ill-fated NCAA Tournament game against Ohio helped give the Wolverines a chance they ultimately couldn't cash in.

But the sophomore obviously wanted a different situation. John Beilein yanked him from the starting lineup after Michigan's 75-59 loss at Iowa, and coached him hard, like he does all of the Wolverines. By the end, Smotrycz sought a bus ticket out of town.

It's a temporary negative - losing a solid shooter and the team's second-best rebounder - but in some ways a big-picture positive. Good programs, with plenty of talent and plenty of demands, lose good players. Not everyone is willing to accept a role, or the sort of physical and mental challenges that spawned the saying: "Those Who Stay Will Be Champions."

Michigan needs - and is getting - a reaffirmation of that culture in both football and basketball. There will be some casualties along the way. Oh well…

News: Burke's father confirms the freshman is going to check out information that could lead to a jump to the NBA for the coming season.

Views: This is the one that has Michigan fans' hair on fire. Reactions ranging from projections about U-M's NIT status next postseason to hang-wringing diatribes about deeper problems in the (Big Ten championship) program abound.

Here's a little dose of reality: Burke's potential departure does not directly relate to anything on the Mayan calendar. The world was actually supposed to end when Darius Morris departed, but Beilein negotiated a temporary delay in that process.

First off, Burke hasn't left. He's going to check things out, and there's no issue with that. When he does, he'll find that the odds of a freshman guard his size getting drafted in the first round and making a strong go of it immediately are not good. Isiah Lord Thomas doesn't come around very often, and even he stuck around two years at Indiana.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Burke stays. All it takes is one individual, saying the right hopeful words, for a talented young collegian to make a fast break toward the next level. After seeing Manny Harris and Morris leave early, Michigan fans' best bet might be to just assume Burke is bolting, and then be delightfully surprised when and if he doesn't.

If he does, it's a short-term crusher for the Wolverines. Burke went beyond everyone's expectations in doing what he did for Michigan this season, and if he's back - surrounded by even more talent than on hand this year - it bodes well for another run at a conference championship and some NCAA retribution.

But if he packs his bags, the cranes cranking away at Crisler Center aren't going to suddenly be swallowed up in a gigantic sinkhole. Beilein will have several months to find a point guard that wants to play on a defending Big Ten championship team with glistening new facilities.

He's already working on depth in that area, and if the depth has to step to the forefront, so be it. He's got to get to the position where he's got a solid backup point guard at all times, but that's easier said than done in a college basketball world that often features a play-early-or-leave mentality.

Two points here - one, Michigan fans went a long time wondering if the Wolverines were ever again going to recruit with the big boys. The feel-gooders - the Zack Novaks, Stu Douglasses and other so-called "YMCA pickups" - were fine for depth and glue and whatever other damning with faint praise the masses could generate. But teams need players to win, most agreed.

Well, players will often be keeping a close eye on the folks who will potentially write them big checks for doing what they love to do. That means they'll leave early, or go to Kentucky, or both.

Goodbye Harris, Morris, and maybe Burke. Welcome back to the big time, Michigan fans. It's a sure sign that the program is on the rise, when the talent level can churn through early exodus.

Secondly, that doesn't mean you have to like it. Bob Knight still has it right on this one. The NBA needs to institute a minor league system, to which players can immediately move from high school, foregoing college altogether.

If they sign a letter of intent to play in college, they're locked in for three years, or at least locked out of the NBA. That's the big-picture solution to this issue, one NBA Commissioner David Stern will probably continue to stiff-arm. He has the best of both worlds right now - a minor league system called college basketball, into which NBA franchises can tap anytime, with no maintenance fees.

News: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspends New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton for a year over the Saints' "bounty system" on opposing players.

I'm literally standing and applauding here, Mr. Commissioner. An adult actually entered the room. Said adult didn't threaten action by the counting system: "If you don't straighten up … I mean it … one … two … I'm serious now … three … now look. I'm going to…"

Do nothing. That's what the counters are going to do. Those serious about change and modified behavior take swift action, without any pitiful, blustering elementary math intervening. That's what happened here.

Step out of line, and you pay. Period. Anyone else have any questions?

How does this relate to college athletics? Unfortunately, it doesn't. That's because the NCAA doesn't feature a Roger Goodell, or the structure whereby a commissioner with a strong hand can actually fix the problems.

Can you imagine a system like that, in the face of a coach covering up for his ineligible players, lying to the governing body, and attempting to continue a decade-long dance on the dirty side by pursuing a deny-and-deflect strategy?

Um, no, President Gee. Don't worry. Coach Tressel won't fire you. And Coach Tressel, you can remain in place, if the institution so chooses, after your suspension ends. That's with scholarship reductions, a bowl ban and probation.

Oh, and one other item. No football in 2012. You can practice. Just no games, no game-related income, no game-related national exposure. All games on your schedule are hereby forfeited, and your record goes into the books at 0-12. Teams you were to have played are granted a special exemption to schedule a non-conference contest in those slots.

See you in 2013. And don't do this again.

Want to stop the funny business in college athletics? It can be stopped, at least the part that coaches know about and sign off on. Make the penalties hurt enough that the temptation to stray no longer exists.

More than one OSU fan has informed me they'd take 2001-2010 again in a heartbeat, with any level of cheating involved, to achieve what the Buckeyes achieved against Michigan and on the national scene.

"It's just the cost of doing business," they claim, regarding OSU's recent NCAA setback.

Obviously, the cost isn't high enough. Time for a good dose of Goodell.

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