Monday, August 31, 2009

What do you call a non-story that lacks details?

Everyone's still talking about it, so I want to make one more comment on the Michigan story. I think I made it clear in my post on Sunday that the players are obviously required to spend more than 20 hours a week, and therefore the NCAA's time rule is probably being broken (at least in spirit). What I was also trying to say, though, is that everyone spends significantly more than 20 hours a week, and it really just comes down to the way that time is registered according to the NCAA.

The thing that's been bothering me about the Free Press story is that writers made no real attempt to determine via the NCAA rulebook which activities counted as "voluntary" and which activities counted as "mandatory," and that's really the crux of the allegations.

Statements such as "I was there on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., depending on if guys needed treatment," are taken to mean that the players spent 12 hours a day on mandatory activities, and that's a ridiculous assertion. I used to spend about 12 hours every weekday in UM academic buildings as a student, but that doesn't mean I took 60 credit hours a semester.

A simple review of the the rulebook shows the following exemptions, which are just the portions applicable to the Michigan investigation:
a. Training-table or competition-related meals;
b. Physical rehabilitation;
c. Dressing, showering or taping; …
h. Medical examinations or treatments; …
m. Voluntary individual workouts, provided these workouts are not required or supervised by coaching staff members, except that such activities may be monitored for safety purposes or conducted by the institution's strength and conditioning personnel who have department wide duties.
o. The provision of videotapes to a student-athlete by an institution's coach that include a personalized message and athletically related information (e.g., discussion of plays, general workout programs, lectures on strategy related to the sport), provided the viewing of the videotape by the student-athlete is voluntary;
p. Use of an institution's athletics facilities (which may be reserved) during the academic year or summer by student-athletes, provided the activities are not supervised by or held at the direction of any member of an institution's coaching staff.
Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder made no attempt to determine how much time was being spent on voluntary activities and how much was being spent on mandatory activities, which is simply incomprehensible to me.

Were there violations committed? Probably minor ones, but there's no way to know. I'm not saying this purely to defend Michigan, just to point out that there's a huge gap between saying that the players were at the facilities for 12 hours and saying that the players were involved in mandatory activities for 12 hours.

Yes, this is a ridiculous technicality. But a technicality is the only way to turn this into a story when surveys show that the average amount of time spent by NCAA athletes on "football-related activities" is 44.8 hours a week. If 20 hours of "mandatory" activities is the limit, we have to know which parts of UM's daily activities were considered mandatory by the NCAA to know if there were any violations. We don't know, because no one bothered to find out the details after the players said "it was mandatory."

The allegations were certainly worth reporting, but so are the claims of current or former players Carson Butler, Tate Forcier and Sean Griffin and the parents of current players Michael Schofield and Obi Ezeh, all of whom have directly disputed the reported violations. This would have been nice to know about, but obviously their side of the story went unreported.

And that doesn't include freshmen JeRon Stokes and Brandin Hawthorne, who were both quoted in the Free Press story talking about the team's fall workouts. Hawthorne was obviously upset over the way his quotes were used in the story, and he responded accordingly:
"I told them I lift weight at 8 until 10:30, go to class, and come back and work ... [Then] we go watch film. They turn it all around."
Both Stokes and his parents, meanwhile, went to Rivals with some of their own critical comments:
"They took and twisted and misconstrued [his quote], when Ronnie was just simply saying he's doing the regulated hours required by the coaches within the rules."
If you're going to make claims that Michigan is committing "major violations" (in Rosenberg's words), you'd better make sure you have your facts straight. And because of a half-assed effort to report the details and a complete failure to provide an opposing view or relevant context (other schools' time usage), there's no way to know if this was simply a one-sided slam job or a truly meaningful investigation.

Of course, even if the reported claims are essentially true, it doesn't change the fact that the total time commitment is no different than at every other big-time school. As I said before, this is a non-story as far as I'm concerned, and I think most people that really follow college football feel the same way.

My favorite line on the situation comes from Orson at the wonderful Every Day Should Be Saturday:
Please, don a rat-cap and wave a pom-pom with your letterman’s sweater over in the bathtub gin and jazz section over in the stands where fans from the 1920s sit if any of this shocks you. This is illicit professional sports charged with the loony tribalism of the regional, sponsored by universities in the same way universities have always helped develop young talent. If computer programming majors at Georgia Tech can code until their eyes bleed, the same should apply for anyone with a sponsored talent on scholarship who wants to work extra hours. This message brought to you by the 21st century, reality, and having a fucking clue.
Exactly. I hate to use the "everybody's doing it" excuse, but a reality check from the Free Press, ESPN and everyone else blowing this way out of proportion would be nice.

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