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April 25, 2014
The Week That Was
Michigan will play three night games this season for only the fourth time in school history, the Big Ten announced in unveiling its primetime lineup.
Big Ten Network to air Michigan-Rutgers game in primetime
The Big Ten Network announced a six-game slate of evening contests, including Michigan's Oct. 4 road contest at Rutgers. The Wolverines will also play at Notre Dame Sept. 6 under the lights (on NBC) and will host Penn State Oct. 11 on ESPN or ESPN2, giving U-M at least three night games for the fourth consecutive season - the Wolverines played four in 2013.
What They're Saying:
BTN.com's Derek Reinglass spoke to Michael Calderon, BTN Vice President of Programming, to get his take on the announcements, and one response to a question on strategy stood out:
"We want to select games and schedule them in broadcast windows where they can draw the most viewers. We've learned over the years that the audience becomes fragmented when we schedule primetime games that compete directly with Big Ten games on ABC or ESPN.
"This year, four of the five Saturdays where we are airing a game in prime are weeks where ABC/ESPN will not be offering a Big Ten prime game, creating more opportunities for fans to watch Big Ten football."
The lone exception? Oct. 4, when Michigan plays at Rutgers, Michigan State will be at Nebraska on ABC/ESPN.
Meanwhile, BTN.com's Tom Dienhart broke down the matchups and said this about the Wolverines' affair:
"The 'birthplace of college football' will play host to the all-time winningest college football program in the first meeting ever between these schools. Having a storied program like Michigan playing in the shadow of New York City in prime time is what this 'new' Big Ten is all about.
"It's also a great chance for the Scarlet Knights to measure themselves vs. a Big Ten standard bearer. Without Big Ten membership, no way, no how, does a program like Michigan visit Rutgers. Win (or at least make a game of it) and it will go a long way toward helping Rutgers build its program and brand."
My Take: Prior to the 2011 season, Michigan had played three night games in a single season just once, in 2005, with an additional three instances of two evening-contest campaigns (1983, 1995 and 2006).
Some folks may not like it - the media chief among them - and argue that tradition is being forsaken, but college football is constantly evolving and this is the new norm. If anything, the Big Ten is finally playing catch-up to the SEC, which has been showcasing its top programs in primetime for the better part of a decade.
And keeping up with the joneses is critical in today's climate. Some may scoff at that but everything about college football in 2014 is more competitive than ever before - media coverage, recruiting battles, creating revenue streams - and primetime games are the perfect opportunity to showcase a program to a larger audience that is not being splintered as much as the afternoon audiences are.
For the Big Ten, it makes sense to pick Michigan-Rutgers even if it goes up against another Big Ten primetime matchup. As Dienhart noted, putting the Maize and Blue in the shadow of New York City for an evening affair should generate a little extra media attention from the Big Apple news and could give the network record ratings.
As for us sportswriters and our constant kvetching about night games, you're right, we are a spoiled lot, but that doesn't mean we don't have a legitimate beef. Saturdays are workdays, which is fine. This is the profession we chose and it's a career most of us love, but when the game ends, our job ramps up and generally requires four to six hours of work. Thus, a typical night game that starts at 8pm has reporters leaving the press box around 4 or 5:00 a.m.
Is it a better job than most? Absolutely. But without sleep, we get a little cranky so expect to hear a little moaning and groaning every time another game is announced to start 'late.' But don't worry, we definitely realize how good we have it (I haven't paid for a football ticket or for food in more than a decade), and it's really just a big joke amongst the media as a lament to bond over.
Chad Lindsay picks Ohio State
Former Alabama center Chad Lindsay announced on Tuesday he would be enrolling at Ohio State for the fall term, with the hopes of winning a starting job with the Buckeyes. Lindsay had also considered Michigan, Oklahoma, Louisville and California, and many believed U-M was the favorite thanks to Lindsay's prior relationship with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
What They're Saying
Michigan lost out on a player that could help the Wolverines next season. Perhaps worse than that - a rival gained a player, MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner points out:
"Michigan was dealt a bit of a double-whammy Tuesday afternoon when news broke that transfer center target Chad Lindsay was headed elsewhere.
"If 'elsewhere' was Louisville or Oklahoma or Cal, this might only be a single punch to the stomach. But in this case, 'elsewhere' was Columbus, Ohio.
"Lindsay, a graduate transfer senior center who is leaving Alabama and will have immediate eligibility, will play his final year of college football at Ohio State. Not Michigan.
"For Wolverine fans, that hurts. And it hurts twice. It'll hurt them because Michigan absolutely could have used an extra bit of depth and experience along the offensive line this season. As it is, the Wolverines will enter 2014 without a single scholarship senior up front.
"But it also hurts them because Lindsay -- who played for current Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier during his time at Alabama -- is headed to Ohio State. If I have to explain why that hurts, then you've probably made a wrong turn somewhere."
My Take: I spoke to former Michigan All-Big Ten offensive lineman and TheWolverine.com analyst Doug Skene about this on Wednesday, and he noted that the news provides a great opportunity for the Maize and Blue to experience true growth from within.
"In a way, I am almost relieved because he would be a fifth-year guy being hailed as a savior by some, and for a group like Michigan, he may have been a bit of an outsider," Skene shared. "Maybe the story shifts to him and how he's trying to have his one last hurrah, and it's really not about the entire starting five and their ownership of this team.
"Many moons ago when I played, we had a strong senior class that led us but when they left, John Vitale and Mike Husar, we looked around the room and knew it was our time now. 'Let's take the torch and run with it and meet the expectations.' It was an empowering feeling that it was our time to make the move.
"And these guys, with everything they've been through, and all the criticism they've taken, there's probably this incredible sense that, 'We're going to lead this charge. Us. Not some one-year rental.'"
Perhaps Lindsay would have really helped. Certainly there have been indications that if he won the center job, he would have allowed redshirt junior Graham Glasgow to compete at guard, increasing the potential at the right or left spot. But after the 2013 season ended, everyone on this roster and in this coaching staff understood that the players already wearing the winged helmet were responsible for righting this ship.
The Wolverines now have 12 scholarship linemen with at least a full year in the system (seven with at least two years), and while they will still be young, the Maize and Blue have no excuses. The offense has been simplified, and the urgency has been dialed up. It's time to get it done, as Skene finishes: "it's up to everyone involved to make sure last year was an aberration and the line starts playing the way 134 years of tradition demand of it."
Mitch McGary declares his NBA intentions
In an article written by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports, Mitch McGary reveals that he failed an NCAA-administrated drug test during March Madness and will be subjected to a one-year suspension per NCAA rules. Seeing no other option, McGary declared he would leave Michigan for the potential of a NBA future, voiding his final two seasons.
What They're Saying
You can find Wetzel's entire article here. It's a terrific read and answers just about everything you want to know.
Wetzel is a columnist, and while he doesn't make excuses for McGary, he certainly questions the legitimacy of a year suspension:
"By failing a test administered by the NCAA, rather than his school, McGary was subject to the draconian Bylaw 220.127.116.11.1, which calls for a player to be 'ineligible for a minimum of one calendar year.' A second offense, even for just marijuana, results in permanent banishment.
"'If it had been a Michigan test, I would've been suspended three games and possibly thought about coming back," McGary said. "I don't have the greatest circumstances to leave right now [due to the injury]. I feel I'm ready, but this pushed it overboard. I don't think the penalty fits the crime. I think one year is overdoing it a little bit.'
"Michigan agreed, McGary said, and appealed the decision to the NCAA in early April. It was denied, however. Neither the university nor the NCAA would comment directly on the case or the appeal.
"The NCAA's denial became even more confusing when on April 15, just days after the appellate ruling, its legislative council agreed a full-season ban was too strong for a first-time recreational drug failure. It changed NCAA policy and lowered the penalty to half a season.
"Yet the NCAA declined to apply the new standard to McGary because he violated the rule under the old terms, even if it was just weeks prior to the change. Spokesperson Michelle Brutlag Hosick said the new policy does not actually go into effect until Aug. 1, the standard date for the NCAA legislation.
"This entire case feels like a stern and inflexible bureaucracy pushing a high profile, would-be All-American out of college competition for no particularly good reason. The NCAA couldn't reasonably expect a player of McGary's caliber to sit out a full season and thus delay a professional opportunity for two years."
ESPN.com's Dana O'Neill also questioned the NCAA's decision to enforce the one-year ban:
"He messed up. To his immense credit, he admitted it, even though had he kept his mouth shut odds are this never would have gone public.
"His punishment is that he was forced to make a decision that he might have made anyway. McGary will forgo his final two years of college and put his name in the NBA draft. He will not be destitute, banished and exiled to the unemployment line. His life will not be over, so let's save the hankies here.
"However (and please put the proper emphasis on that word, a la my colleague Stephen A. Smith), that doesn't mean McGary hasn't been at least partially victimized and that the culprit isn't the same old group in Indianapolis.
"His is yet another in a litany of cases where the NCAA simply cannot see the gray, and worse refuses to allow for it.
"On April 15, the NCAA agreed its punishment for street drugs -- a full year's suspension -- was too severe and decided to reduce the penalty for first-time offenders to half a season.
"But McGary failed under the old rule, and even upon appeal was denied. There was no attempt to meet the kid in the middle, to recognize that by offering a half-season suspension, the NCAA wasn't being soft; it was being reasonable. And that remains the crux of the problem."
My Take: This is a multi-faceted story. Like O'Neil, I don't look at McGary as an innocent victim. There are rules in place, and if said rules are violated, there is a punishment levied. Sure, other players smoke pot and don't get caught, other programs cheat and seemingly go unpunished, but one has to assume that the message was conveyed to every player (former coaches attest to this) that the NCAA drug tests and that any player can be required to be tested. With the NCAA Tournament looming, there is no reason to take the risk.
As for the NCAA itself, many have stated that testing positive for marijuana earns too harsh a penalty - a year ban for a recreational drug that was miscast as performance-enhancing by the NCAA until just recently. I would agree the punishment is steep, and seems a little silly in today's climate, but then the NCAA has never shown to keep up with the current political and social landscape.
What is certainly up for debate is the inconsistency of the NCAA in its drug-testing and in its consequences.
To me, the only true ridiculous part about this whole thing is the NCAA's refusal to alter its punishment of McGary to the half-season ban that will be enacted Aug. 1. I can appreciate the argument that one would make that players have already been punished with one-year bans and there is nothing that can be done to reverse such a decision, but McGary's suspension has yet to start, and if the rule is going to be in-place for the 2014-15 season, then it should be in-place for every athlete eligible that season.
Imagine how stupid it would be for a player on July 31 to be banned for one year and a player tested on Aug. 1 to be suspended for half a season. Yet, under this ruling, that's precisely what could occur.
The NCAA practices with no common sense, seemingly making arbitrary rulings while ignoring all realistic factors. A bad rule was on the books, the NCAA has admitted. A bad rule with an unfair punishment is being changed. Players should not be subjected to such a stringent consequence. Well, starting Aug. 1.
Somehow players breaking the same rule, failing the same test, will be given one penalty, and an entire different lot of players breaking the same rule, failing the same test, will be given another. Does that make any sense to anyone?