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May 10, 2013

The Week That Was: Webber's banishment ends

Former Michigan basketball standout Chris Webber dominated the headlines this past week as the formal dissociation between Webber, Louis Bullock, Robert Traylor and Maurice Taylor and the U-M program ceased.

The 10-year ban ends

When the NCAA levied its sanctions against Michigan back in 2003, it added an interesting provision to punishment that included removing banners and all recognition of the Fab Five era - it barred U-M from having anything to do with Webber and the three other former Wolverines cited in the Ed Martin scandal for a decade. That 10-year period came to its end May 8.

What They're Saying

The Associated Press' Larry Lage broke the first story of the week, talking to U-M athletics director David Brandon, who seemed willing to extend an olive branch to Webber, Taylor and Bullock (Traylor has passed away): "The former Wolverines have to want to reconnect with the school. And the institution has to welcome them back after they were part of one of the biggest scandals in NCAA history. Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon insisted the door is open.

"'I've never met any of those guys, and I am looking forward to meeting them,' Brandon said late Tuesday night in an interview with The Associated Press. 'If any of those guys are interested in meeting with me, that would be great.'

"No one, though, is sure when or if those face-to-face or telephone conversations will happen."

For Michigan to reconcile its history, the Wolverines have to take the first step Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel opines, saying U-M owes Webber an apology for making him the scapegoat: "The disassociation worked well in pushing the spotlight of blame away from the system or the coaches or the administrators or the circumstances or even Martin, and right on the players. It's all Chris Webber's fault!

"This was the NCAA! This was bad! And besides, isn't Webber sort of unlikable and aloof? Didn't a lot of people hate that hot-dogging, baggy shorts-wearing team of his? And didn't he once complain it wasn't fair that he couldn't afford to eat at McDonald's while the school sold his jersey in the bookstore when, in fact, he was flush with Martin's money? What a liar.

"It all fit nicely in a box, wrapped in a bow. Come back and apologize C-Webb, and we'll even show you how to forgive and forget. How magnanimous of us.

"If only Michigan and the NCAA - all of us, really - had a bit of the perspective they should.

"Chris Webber was 13 years old, just a junior high prodigy, when Ed Martin first approached him.

"The NCAA and Michigan apparently never bothered to even consider that these guys were victims. They thought the players could just breezily walk away from a guy of that influence anytime they chose. Could they have done that? Could they have handled things better? Of course. To assume this was simple and easy, however, is wrong."

Finally, MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner says it is silly to demand that one side apologizes first. Both parties are in the wrong and both need to forgive and move on: "Michigan basketball doesn't desperately need Chris Webber in its life. It played in a national championship game last season, and is now featured on national TV more in one season than a lot of programs are in five.

"John Beilein has pushed the program's recruiting profile back near where it was 20 years ago, and he's won a Big Ten championship.

"And, by the same token, Webber isn't in desperate need of Michigan. He had a tremendous professional career, has been applauded numerous times for his charitable contributions and seems to be doing just fine in his post-playing days as an up-and coming NBA analyst.

"If both parties believe they're better off with each other in their respective lives, then so be it. They should be able to get together as adults, have a discussion and move forward.

"But either side demanding an apology or restitution at this juncture is pointless. It'd be pure ego stroking, and nothing more."

My Take: I've thought about this one for quite a while and I think Baumgardner's opinion is probably the closest to my own. Certainly the result of the actions of Webber, Bullock and Taylor resulted in sanctions and a dark period in Michigan basketball history that the program only recently has emerged from, but should we lay the fault squarely on their shoulders, especially since they began taking money, as Wetzel notes, when they were as young as 13 years old? That seems awfully harsh.

Yes, those players continued to make bad decisions as they matured, and they lied about their involvement when they were old enough to know better, but is the proper consequence to throw them in perpetual jail and write them off for good or to rehab and welcome them back with a redemptive spirit?

I don't think an apology needs to be offered by either side. The basketball program and the players involved have all moved on to other chapters in their lives, and it's time to acknowledge that. If Webber wants to attend a Michigan event (he did go to the NCAA final against Louisville), he should be allowed to just as any other basketball alum is. Essentially, there is no reason to treat these guys special. Just treat them like everybody else.

Devin Gardner compared to Sam Bradford

This week Bleacher Report tried to compare college football's top quarterbacks in 2013 to NFL starters, drawing parallels between Michigan's Gardner and the St. Louis Rams' Sam Bradford.

What They're Saying

Here is the site's explanation: "Devin Gardner has the unenviable task of trying to follow up the all-purpose offensive performance put on by now-former Michigan Wolverine Denard Robinson. Interestingly, even though Robinson may be the better overall athlete, Michigan might be better off as Gardner looks to be a better quarterback.

"Gardner's abilities more closely resemble those of St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford than they match Robinson's. Bradford is fairly accurate (59.5 percent completion rating last season), but isn't afraid to run when necessary (127 yards on 37 carries).

"St. Louis fans aren't really being wowed by Bradford's performances (although the Rams improved from 2-14 in 2011 to 7-8-1 last season), and likewise, Michigan fans may see less overall production from the quarterback position next season, but as has been proven over the past several seasons in Ann Arbor, flash doesn't always win the big games."

My Take: I'll give Bleacher Report at least this much - it didn't play the race comparison, which occurs far too often and is usually terribly inaccurate. I thought about this one long, looked up stats and watched some film and the two QBs that stick out to me are the Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger.

Romo (6-2, 230) and Roethlisberger (6-5, 241) are big, strong, athletic quarterbacks that can deliver with accuracy from the pocket but seem to be at their best when they're improvising. Roethlisberger is notorious for shaking off would-be tacklers and then rolling to his left before throwing to a now-open receiver. Romo also seems to relish fleeing the pocket to throw on the run. That's much more who Gardner is.

As for their running prowess, neither has put up great numbers in their careers, but Roethlisberger does have a nose for the end zone, scoring 14 touchdowns in nine seasons while averaging 115 yards rushing per season. Gardner is not a Colin Kaepernick clone. He does not like to run the read-option but as a scrambler, he'll get more yardage than your average drop-back passer, and Roethlisberger is the same way.

Will Hagerup will redshirt in 2013

Michigan announced this week that senior punter Will Hagerup, suspended since December for a violation of team rules, has been reinstated to the team but that he will redshirt for the 2013 season and be eligible to return in 2014 as a fifth-year student-athlete.

What They're Saying

MLive.com's Kyle Meinke says have no fear Michigan fans, junior Matt Wile is perfectly capable of handling the punting job this fall: "Fun fact: Filtering out pooch punts, Wile has averaged 42.6 yards on his 20 career attempts. That would have ranked 35th nationally last year, and third in the Big Ten behind Hagerup and Michigan State's Mike Sadler.

"Wile's not quite as powerful as Hagerup, but the guy's got leg. We've known that since the day he hit campus.

"Wile told MLive.com as a freshman that he once kicked a 63-yard field goal in high school. He's handled kickoff duties in every game of his Michigan career, and attempted long field-goal attempts last year, going 2-of-3 with makes from 48 and 52 yards.

"Leg strength simply is not a concern. It's part of what sold Michigan coach Brady Hoke on him since he was a kid."

MaizeandBrew.com's Zach Travis reminds us not to write off Hagerup for a possible impact in 2014 also: "If Hagerup makes it through the year he could come back to reclaim his job as a senior. He certainly has the leg for it. Last year as Michigan's long distance punter, Hagerup average 45 yards per punt, and had a 43.6 ypp average as a freshman. He is no stranger to 50 or 60 yard punts, and even has a 72-yard boomer as his career long. While consistency has been a concern -- one not helped by his missing time -- he is a valuable weapon in the field position game and could have a big NFL upside."

My Take: There are a lot of interesting threads within this story, but as Meinke notes, the one Michigan fans have to be least concerned with is what will actually take place on the field. Wile is more than a suitable replacement and could be the Big Ten's best punter this season.

More concerning is Hagerup himself. He has been suspended three times in his career, once as a true freshman for the Ohio State game. Then again for the first four games of his sophomore year and then a third time for the bowl game and essentially for the entire 2013 season. The senior from Milwaukee needs to get his act together or risk blowing an incredible opportunity academically and athletically.

Some have argued that Hagerup has had his chance and doesn't deserve another. That a walk-on doing everything the coaches ask better deserves to use that scholarship this season. They probably have a point, but head coach Brady Hoke has shown he will not give up on his players if he feels they can be rehabilitated and that's what he's doing with Hagerup.

And as was the case with Darryl Stonum, this is not a deal set in stone. If Hagerup gets in trouble one more time, he'll be gone.

Michigan ranks 16th in SI.com Top 25

Two more sports Web sites unveiled post-spring Top 25 polls for the 2013 football season, with SportsIllustrated.com ranking U-M 16th and CBSSports.com omitting the Wolverines altogether. SI.com ranked Michigan State 14th.

What They're Saying

SI.com praised junior defensive end Frank Clark: "The emergence of Clark -- a 277-pounder who teammates say runs as fast as a receiver -- should take some pressure off a defense reeling from the knee injury linebacker Jake Ryan suffered in spring practice. Brennen Beyer has moved to linebacker to help account for the loss of Ryan, meaning Clark, who led Michigan in tackles for loss last season despite a part-time role, will have to play more snaps at rush end."

My Take: Everyone is upset about the Spartans ranking ahead of Michigan, but it's truly not inconceivable that MSU will finish with a better record and represent the Legends Division in the Big Ten title game.

For starters, MSU has an easier conference schedule than the Wolverines, playing eight teams that went 27-39 a year ago while U-M sees eight foes with a combined record of 35-31 in 2012. State should also feature another ferocious defense that at the moment is more accomplished and more experienced than the Maize and Blue starting 11.

Certainly CBSSports has missed the boat and others that believe Michigan is in a rebuilding mode are way off, but a few things have to break the Wolverines' way for them to play for the Big Ten title. They have that potential, and if the interior of the offensive line comes together, the offense should be one of the conference's best (the defense should also be one of the top four in the league).

The good thing about these rankings is that they don't matter. Saturdays do. And Michigan and Michigan State will meet for bragging rights and likely to decide who advances to Indianapolis Dec. 7.





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