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March 28, 2014

The Week That Was

After advancing to the Sweet 16, the Michigan hoops team has commanded most of the attention this week, but a stunning court decision involving Northwestern football also made big headlines.

Michigan preps for Tennessee

Though Michigan entered the Sweet 16 with the largest average margin of victory in the first two rounds of any team still competing, beating Wofford and Texas by 31 total points (15.5 per game), the Maize and Blue find themselves being discounted by many of the college hoops pundits, who have bought into Tennessee fever. Still, the oddsmakers favor U-M.

What They're Saying

SI.com's Seth Davis doesn't buy the Volunteer hype and thinks Michigan wins by 10:

"For all the attention that has been rightly lavished on the Wolverines' core of sharp shooters, let us not forget the invaluable contributions of 6-8 senior forward Jordan Morgan, whose presence in the post kept Michigan from falling off a cliff when Mitch McGary went down with a season-ending back injury in December.

"Morgan had two double-doubles in the Wolverines' wins in Milwaukee, and he will have to come through again in his muscle-to-muscle battle with Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes, a double-double machine himself. As magnificent as Stokes was in the Volunteers' win over Mercer (17 points, 18 rebounds), the reason the game was a romp was because Tennessee guards Antonio Barton and Josh Richardson, who have been limited offensively this season to say the least, were lights out from the perimeter.

"Was that an aberration or the new normal? I say it's the former, which will give the edge to Michigan."

ESPN.com's Dick Vitale agrees but many experts are on the Tennessee bandwagon, including Grantland.com's Marl Titus:

"If you created a team whose only purpose was to exploit all of Michigan's weaknesses, it would probably look a lot like Tennessee. The Volunteers are great defensively, they have a ton of size, and there are multiple guys who can score on the block. They outrebound pretty much everybody they play. They're physical, nasty SOBs who lick their lips at the sight of finesse basketball teams.

"Michigan has significantly better players than Tennessee, but Tennessee has better fighters. And, unlike other teams who fit that description (Ohio State, Cincinnati, Saint Louis, etc.), Tennessee has multiple guys who can score.

"It's easier said than done, but if the Vols can turn tonight's game into more of a street fight and less of a 3-point contest, Michigan is in trouble."

My Take: It does seem that the majority of predictions out there are trending Tennessee's way, and there is good reason for that, as the Volunteers have caught fire in the NCAA Tournament, winning three straight.

They also do have a mismatch down low against the Wolverines with their two big men. However, as long as U-M's Jordan Morgan can avoid the fouls that handicapped Michigan in its Big Ten Tournament finals loss to MSU, the Maize and Blue will be fine in the paint and will be able to force Tennessee into playing Michigan's game of guarding more athletic players.

At this point in the year, it's silly to disrespect either team. Could Michigan lose? Absolutely. Could Michigan stomp Tennessee? Absolutely. Folks will point to this or that about the matchup - the fact that the Volunteers haven't really played anyone of consequence in this tournament or that U-M can't win when it's not hitting threes. It makes for entertainment, sure, but both teams enter play tonight dangerous and easily capable of winning.

Those worried about Michigan being disrespected need not care because if U-M wins, the respect comes, and if it loses, well then, there you go.

Northwestern football can form a union

In a groundbreaking decision, the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday that Northwestern football players could qualify as employees and form a union.

What They're Saying

ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel said this ruling potentially opens Pandora's Box: "Do the men's and women's tennis teams demand the same benefits that the football team gets? Do the non-revenue athletes, who are superior in numbers, take over the union? Will the athletic department have to deal with a different union in each sport?

"Another former Northwestern quarterback, C.J. Bacher, released a statement that there is "overwhelming consensus" among the former Wildcat student-athletes with whom he has spoken that they have a "great deal of concern" about what could happen to their alma mater.

"The ruling glosses over or ignores a lot of other issues that, while they might not concern Ohr, certainly concern the rest of intercollegiate athletics."

This story is so big (and will grow bigger) that non-athletic media publications are weighing in, like Forbes.com" It is not a good idea to convert student-athletes into employees? The NLRB just did that. Employee participants are something very different from college athletics? It seems it is time to call student-athletes by their real name - indentured athletes. One of the guiding principles of the NCAA has just been shot down? Consider me shocked.

"For the sake of pushing a point through, one of the guiding principals of the NCAA - that college athletics is about students who play sports - has just been debunked in a thorough analysis by an experienced NLRB Regional Director. When an Association's guiding principle falls, the Association weakens."

My Take: This story is still very new and very raw, and it will take weeks, months and maybe even years to sort it all out.

Many fear that this will the death of collegiate athletics as we've known them for more than 100 years, and while that is certainly possible, it is also unlikely. What is far more likely is that the NCAA will be forced to negotiate a new deal for its student-athletes.

Yes, there are all kinds of ramifications that come with that, such as the impact that it has on non-revenue athletes. Would they unionize? Or would they even have scholarships anymore if the football and basketball programs do unionize and win control of the all the money they bring in to the athletic departments?

Many interesting days lie ahead, and frankly, I hope it never comes to that.

In a perfect world (from where I'm sitting), the NCAA would agree that any merchandise (jerseys, video games, pictures etc.) sold that can be attributed to a player will result in said player receiving the revenue from those sales. Of course, that opens up another can of worms on whether the money should be shared or given to the individual.

This is a nightmare, but also something that can and should lead to a few important and fair changes that result in the student-athletes themselves having greater say in the way they are treated. For instance, if one of the results is that the student-athletes can vote on the number of games they play or the length of their seasons, that would be a positive.

And there are many more examples like that.


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