Friday, December 17, 2010

Alumni Assn warns of media bias before Izzo suspension stories are written

Update: I talked with MSUAA chief Scott Westerman, who apologized for the line in question. It has been taken down from the MSUAA's website, and he said he'd be sharing the coverage we did get with Alumni Club leaders.

Westerman's reaction is entirely appropriate. I know Scott, and he's a good guy under whose leadership the MSUAA is growing in the right direction. Kudos to him for recognizing the error and moving quickly to fix it. -DW

Original post is below.

Here's the news you probably knew by this point: Tom Izzo has been suspended for one game for a secondary violation involving hiring a guy who was in some way connected to an unnamed prospect to coach middle schoolers at a basketball camp.

Honestly? Not a big damn deal. But suspending a coach is odd, and it hasn't really been done before for something like this, and certainly not at a program like MSU. Plus, MSU has a squeaky-clean image in basketball, and it's Izzo, so that makes this a bit more newsworthy.

But that's not what caught my eye. What caught my eye was this line from an e-mail sent by the MSU Alumni Association.

"Newspapers are sold by making the worst out of every situation, and I expect
some negativity from people who would love to throw mud at us."

That line was written, I can only guess, before a single line was written in the press. And as a member of the press, I guess I take a bit of umbrage at preemptive suggestions of bias.

Well let's see if it was justified, going one-by-one through media accounts. I'll link, then summarize.

Detroit Free Press: Bias? Not really, but if there is it tilts toward MSU. Tom Izzo's point of view is given in paragraph two, a quote toward that effect is in paragraph four. In paragraphs five, six and seven, Mark Hollis says the rule is BS. The NCAA did not respond to requests for comment, so no opposing point of view is presented.

Detroit News: Bias? Can't find any. This is a short, fact-only piece that states the allegations and MSU's response. A separate link goes to a DetNews file on Izzo's career, and another links directly to MSU's statement.

Lansing State Journal: Much like the DetNews, this is a short and straightforward. Joe Rexrode's blog is the only opinion so far, and it calls shenanigans on the NCAA.

Booth Newspapers: Written by the David Mayo of the Grand Rapids Press, this one is straightforward - allegations, then MSU's response. No bias here.

ESPN: Eamon Brennan has a column up saying the rule is complex, and likely means everyone's in violation somehow. Also takes time to say Izzo has a well-deserved sterling reputation, and at no time does he question MSU's company line.

AP: States the allegations, gives MSU's line, no one from the NCAA comments. MSU comes off looking as good as possible.

The point of this exercise? Well, I couldn't find an example of bias against MSU among outlets that cover the school, or on the wire services most will use outside of the local market.

Look, I get that bashing the media is en vogue. But just as people would ask that we not rush to judgement against MSU's athletes, let me ask that our own alumni association not rush to judgement against the graduates of its own School of Journalism (like Rexrode and many of the editors and reporters at papers throughout Michigan and the USA).

And at the very least, they're owed an apology.

The 16-team playoff: 2010 version

Every year I do a mock-up of what a proper, 16-team NCAA football tournament would look like. Every year, the matchups far exceed what the bowls turned up, but perhaps not nearly as strikingly as this year.

Here's how this is structured:
1) Every conference champion gets an automatic berth. There are 11 conferences.
2) If an independent school makes the top 16 of the BCS, then the top-ranked independent school gets a spot
3) The top 5 (or 4) remaining slots are taken by the highest-ranking non-champions, as ranked by the BCS, without regard to conference. If that means 4 SEC teams, so be it.
4) This is standard bracket style, no re-seeding.
5) First round would have been played last weekend, second round this weekend. Semifinals are on NY Day, Finals the week after.
5) The first two rounds are played at the home school of the higher seed.
6) The semi-finals, national championship and 3rd place game are evenly rotated throughout the BCS bowls, Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange.

ACC - Va Tech
Big East - UConn
Big Ten - Wisconsin
Big 12 - Oklahoma
C-USA - Central Fla.
Indys - none
MAC - Miami (OH)
Pac 10 - Oregon
SEC - Auburn
Sun Belt - FIU
WAC - Nevada

Qualifiers (with BCS ranking):
Stanford (4)
Ohio State (6)
Arkansas (8)
Michigan State (9)
Boise State (10)

So with that, here's the first round:
FIU (unr) @ Auburn (1)
Miami (OH) @ Oregon (2)
UConnn (unr) @ TCU (3)
UCF (25) @ Stanford (4)
Nevada (15) @ Wisconsin (5)
Va Tech (13) @ Ohio State (6)
Boise State (10) @ Oklahoma (7)
Michigan St. (9) @ Arkansas (8)

Only two real wasted games up there, as Auburn and Oregon would easily advance. But look at the absolute crackers at the lower end - A defensive batte at the Horseshoe? A Fiesta Bowl matchup in Norman? Michigan State vs. former Michigan QB Ryan Mallet in Arkansas? Yes please.

Second round (with likely winners)
Michigan St. (9) @ Auburn (1)
Boise St. (10) @ Oregon (2)
Ohio St. (6) @ TCU (3)
Wisconsin (5) @ Stanford (4)

Not a single bad game here, just absolute wonders top to bottom. Could the best LB corps in the USA slow down Cam Newton? Does Boise really have what it takes to go against the high-flying Ducks? You've got your traditional Rose Bowl with Bucky vs. the Tree, and let's see G. Gordon Gee live up to his talk as the Bucks go to TCU. Each one is a Gameday matchup.

Sugar Bowl - Auburn (1) vs. Wisconsin (5)
Orange Bowl - Oregon (2) vs. Ohio State (6)

Classics, both ways. And don't tell me that both games wouldn't sell out, they would.

Fiesta Bowl Natl Championship: Wisconsin (5) vs. Oregon (2)
Rose Bowl 3rd Place game: Auburn (1) vs. Ohio State (6)

Yes, I think the Badgers are better than Auburn, as they've shut down defenses with a power QB (Ohio State) before this year. But seriously, either way, wouldn't these be exciting matchups? And the 3rd place game ain't bad either.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The BCS argument for Sparty over Brutus

Assuming they win out, the argument for picking MSU over Wisconsin for a BCS bowl is simple. MSU beat the Badgers head to head. Plus, it doesn't really come down to an argument because that's the tiebreaker if just MSU and UW are tied atop the Big Ten.

But what if MSU, Wisconsin and tOSU all three win? Well, then it goes by BCS standings and Bucky Badger is almost certainly is headed to Pasadena.

So how could Sparty jump the Buckeyes, and is there an argument to be made for that happening?

In his weekly online chat, I asked ESPN Big Ten Blogger Adam Rittenberg (arguably the finest reporter covering the Big Ten not named Joe Rexrode) what MSU's argument should be over Ohio State. Here's the exchange.

DW: Is there any chance a bowl picks MSU over OSU for an at-large bid? And if you were Mark Hollis/Dantonio, what would your argument be to the Orange/Sugar/Fiesta bowls?

AR: Very little chance, Derek, because bowls like sure things, and Ohio State is a sure thing. If I'm Dantonio or Hollis, I point out the fact that Michigan State hasn't been to a BCS bowl since 1988. I point out how exciting Michigan State has been to watch with all the wild plays. I really emphasize the Wisconsin win. Still, it's a very tough sell.

Unlikely then, but he's sayin' there's a chance...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sports Illustrated: Former MSU QB took money from an agent

According to an astonishing Sports Illustrated report out today, in which a former agent spills the secrets on what he says is a common practice of paying college football players under the table, a former MSU quarterback was among those taking payments.

Josh Luchs named Tony Banks, QB here from 1994-95, as among the players he paid. Banks, according to Luchs, got "several hundred dollars a month" while at State. Banks, for his part, declined comment on the allegations.

The whole SI story is worth a read, and can be found here. The LSJ's Joe Rexrode reports that since the allegations covered potential misdoings more than four years ago, the NCAA can't pursue an investigation into it. His report is here.

This report puts a new spin on the question of whether or not athletes should be paid. Perhaps we now need to start from the assumption that the stars already are.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bobby Cox and my grandmother

Editor's note: TOSSS reader David Harns is giving away his MSU-Illinois tickets to a deserving fan who wouldn't be able to go otherwise but wants to spend some quality time with their kid. Nominate a deserving person here, deadline is Thursday.

This post below has absolutely nothing to do with MSU athletics, though I guess it unintentionally dovetails with David's charitable gesture. But this post it needed to be written, and I needed to write it. This post is intensely personal, so if that's not your thing then feel free to skip this and come back later when we write something more interesting and Sparty-related. As for now, I need this, so here it is. - DW

I wound up visiting my grandparents in the mountains of north Georgia quite a lot as a kid. It was a free place for a vacation, and if we really booked it we could get there after a 14-hour drive from Miami. You wouldn't want to do that all the time, that drive'll wipe you out and this was well before I could split time behind the wheel with my mom. But then again, we were dirt poor, the stay was free, the meals were good and gas was 37 cents a gallon.

It's not really a secret, I guess, and I don't know that I've said it in such stark terms, but my Gramps was easily my favorite grandparent as a young kid growing up. It's because of him that I have a deep and abiding love for trains - instilled by a man who bought a caboose, renovated it and put it on 50 yards of track in the mountains.

He was eccentric in a sensible sort of way. Every train needs a platform and station house, right? Well, he built those right next to the caboose so it looks like it could just roll at any time. He told me once that the caboose was still rail worthy, but I don't know if that was true or if that was just a story to fuel my 10-year-old imagination. The caboose was bright red, and on the side of it was painted in bright white the initials of me and my cousins, as well as the neighbor's kids and those of a French exchange student who stayed a year with my grandparents in the late 60's. My D was third from the left in the first word.

Gramps was the sort of guy who loved everyone - two people said at his funeral in 1997 that he made everyone feel like they were his best friend, and I think that's probably right. He sent everyone in his church a hand-illustrated birthday letter, with some character from the Sunday funnies on the front. He drew Snoopy the best. He was a Kiwanis member, after having been a Rotarian in the days before his hair turned gray. I hear that sort of thing isn't in the rules, but you bend the rules for a guy like him.

That was Gramps. His wife, my grandmother, was a fiery, stubborn redhead back in those days and despite everything she remains one now. If you wanted to go to a restaurant, she'd go too. She'd be ready 30 minutes after you were, because her hair had to be just so. You'd walk into the restaurant and she'd pick the table - if you picked it she'd ask the waitress to move 10 minutes later. I never saw my Gramps win an argument with her, though he never seemed to mind losing.

To look at the pair of us from the outside, she and I didn't really have much in common. I'd be playing outside with one of those brightly-colored balls you get from the grocery store, and would inevitably get scolded about 15 times inside 15 minutes for putting said ball into her perfectly-manicured rose bushes. We'd go bowling together, she would roll the ball nicely down the lane, I'd hurl it halfway down the lane in the air. I heard about that too. I didn't like her cooking, because I was a kid and she loved to crock pot with a variety of veggies. Frankly, I'm sure I annoyed the hell out of her, yet we talked on the phone at least once a week and every time she'd ask me when I'd be coming back.

Sometimes you have just one thing in common with someone, and our one thing was Atlanta Braves baseball. She only got two TV channels that far north of Atlanta in those days, only one of them without fuzz, and the Braves happened to be on that channel. And man, was she ever a Braves fan. She loved Greg Maddux, thought the world of Tom Glavine and said repeatedly that John Smoltz would look better "if he'd just shave once in a while." She thought Chipper Jones was too cocky when he joined the Braves, but she eventually warmed to him. Above all of them was Bobby Cox, who I guess bears a passing resemblance to a shorter, pudgier Gramps. He was soft-spoken, she liked that, and he wasn't real flashy, she liked that too. He was the sort of guy you could be proud to talk about over a game of bridge with the ladies who'd let their hair fade to blue. She didn't play bridge, but said she'd teach me one of these days, though those days never came.

Now that I think back on it, the first signs that her memory was starting to fade came as we were sitting on the couch watching the Braves. We had had detailed conversations the previous year on the phone about how my Florida Marlins were so much worse in 1998 after their post-1997 World Series fire sale, and we went over the Braves lineup for the upcoming 1999 season. The Marlins won it all in 1997, Gramps would die just before Christmas that year.

But back to the summer of 1999 - my grandmother and I were sitting on that couch, you know the "brand new" kind you're allowed to sit on but can't put your feet on, and we were watching the Braves. I don't remember who they were playing, but we started talking about the lineup. She didn't remember anyone who wasn't on the team in 1998. By now she liked Chipper ("he's cute... and he hits really good" she'd say, blushing slightly), but a good half the team had become a mystery to her.

In 2000, I tried to talk about the Braves lineup with her. "Oh, I don't really know anymore honey," she'd say, even though she kept a team schedule on her coffee table and was still watching 50 or more games a year. "I know Chipper, I like him. And that manager, he's pretty good." I programmed TBS into her "favorites" on her new satellite TV, so she could find it easily. I know she watched the games because I could hear it in the background when I called her.

Some years later, it doesn't matter how many now, she would be diagnosed with dementia. They can't really diagnose Alzheimers outside of an autopsy, so I'm told, but the doctors figure that's the sort of dementia she has, that or something very much like it. She's not in north Georgia anymore, years past the time when she'd be able to live alone. One night she was found stopped on the side of a dark country road somewhere between her house and town. She was lost and couldn't find her way home. Now, she's in a Northern California facility near one of my aunts. My mom moved there from Miami to be with her. She doesn't cook anymore, the cafeteria is down the hall from her room, and she can have meals delivered if she doesn't feel like walking, which is often.

The forgetting has gotten worse. She's got a QVC problem, ordering jewelery and silver coins then wondering aloud when they're delivered why anyone would ship that stuff to her. One year she ordered something like a dozen fruit baskets from Harry & David. You can't return those things. She doesn't control her checkbook anymore. The forgetting has gotten worse - a few months ago she forgot that my mom moved out there to take care of her. She forgot that my mom was divorced (and has been since I was three). She's not in the intensive lock-the-hallway-doors Alzheimers wing, but the family has toured it. It's now a question of when not if. She hasn't watched a Braves game in years.

I wasn't planning on watching the Braves play the Giants tonight. I haven't watched a Braves game since I did so on her nice, cream-colored couch all those years ago. They're not my team, really, though to tell the truth I don't follow baseball that closely anymore. I don't know any of the guys in their lineup. I thought Rick Ankiel was still with the Cardinals.

But someone I follow on Twitter remarked that it was the bottom of the 9th in Atlanta, the Braves were down in what would be the last game of Bobby Cox's career unless they pulled out a run before three outs came and went. So I tuned to TBS. It's carrying the playoff games right now, though I remember it as the network that made the Braves America's team, back when the Expos were still in Montreal and the only question in the National League East was who would finish second to Atlanta.

Out one came and went before I tuned in. I saw Bobby in the dugout. He looked old. He looked tired. Then one of the Braves was walked. Then another got on base. The winning run was now at first, extra innings was now at second. Turner Field, which my grandmother had bemoaned at its origin because she didn't know why they needed to replace the perfectly functional Fulton County Stadium, was rocking. Then came out two. The camera panned to Bobby Cox, he didn't move. I knew what was coming next. I think he did too. I didn't want it to happen, but it did anyways.

Out three. Game, season, career. Over.

When it comes to my grandmother, I know what's coming next. I don't want it to happen, but it will anyways. It's not a question of if with Alzheimer's, it's a question of when. Somehow, she remembers my wife's name. She doesn't always remember that we're married, and she's been told about six times now that my wife and I are having a baby due this February. The old joke that only Alzheimer's families can tell is that it's the one blessing of the disease - you get to tell good news multiple times. But she does remember my wife, and oddly enough remembers her birthday. My mom tells me that she's fighting hard to keep those memories.

Realistically, the first chance we'll have to fly out and see her in San Francisco, where the facility is, is probably August. I don't know that she'll make it that long, but I hope so. I hope she gets a chance to meet her fourth great-grandchild, my first kid. I want that picture with my little one, me, my wife, my mom and my grandma, four generations in one.

She won't remember it, but I will. It's really selfish, I know, but I just want one more inning with her.

Friday, September 10, 2010

How greed ruined the MSU-Florida Atlantic game

Let's start with a pretty blanket statement and work from there, shall we?

There is no reason MSU should draw a piss-ant 25,000 fans to a game anywhere in Michigan, much less Ford Field in Detroit. Yes, I know it's Florida Atlantic. I get that. But this game should have sold out.

Here's the theory: Spartan Stadium seats 75,005. Ford Field seats 65,000. Detroit likely has more MSU alums within an hour's drive than East Lansing does. Even allowing for the fact that this is "out of the norm" so people have to go "out of their way" to see the game, one would figure that attrition to hit no more than 10,005 fans, right?

Instead, as of right now a scant 25,000 tickets have been sold. It might be a joke if this wasn't so egg-on-face embarrassing.

So what happened?

Well, the game was priced wrong and sold wrong. And as your mother always told you, two wrongs don't make a right.

Let's look at the regular ticket prices for a moment:

On FAU's end: Individual game tickets at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale sell at a range from $12-25 a pop. There's a slight discount on for season ticket holders that can take the best seats down below $21 a game.

On MSU's end: Regular games are sold at $49 a pop, aside from Notre Dame this year which is going for $75 a seat. Full-price public season tickets include seven home games for about $44 a game.

Sideline seats for MSU-FAU started at $79 each.

Yes, that's right, some marketing genius decided that Joey Spartan would rather pay MORE MONEY to see his alma mater play FLORIDA ATLANTIC than NOTRE DAME.

Folks, that's nothing short of greed.

Here's why. Lockhart Stadium seats 20,450 when full (which it rarely is). Ford Field, as I mentioned above, seats 65,000. If this game were at FAU's current stadium AND they charged everyone regular sideline ticket prices with no discount AND it sold out, FAU would take in about $511,000.

That number's high because of my unrealistic caveats, but let's be generous and say that they'd actually take in around $400,000 once you factor in the discounts they're giving.

If they sold out Ford Field at that price, they'd make more than quadruple that amount, or $1,625,000. Even with paying MSU for the road game ($500K?) and covering FAU's travel costs (Maybe $200K), they'd still clear more than double their usual home game amount.

What if they decided to be a little greedy (but still very reasonable) and sell only the good seats at Ford Field at MSU's regular $49 rate for games like Iowa and Wisconsin? Assuming a half and half distribution between sideline and other seats, FAU would then clear $2.4 million for the game.

Now prices have come down. Most reports mention the fact that they're being sold for $19 a pop. Very few mention that there are thousands of tickets being given away for free.

Even still, most guesses are that this game will feature fields of empty seats. In Detroit. For Michigan State football.

For a school that usually gets less than $500,000 for a home game, $2.4 mil should have been plenty. But it wasn't enough. And now, they won't get nearly that.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Big Ten Divisions: The mistake the Big Ten shouldn't make

Back in June, great excitement surrounded Nebraska’s agreement to join the Big Ten Conference. The Big Ten got one of the “blue bloods” in college football, within the Big Ten’s traditional Midwestern footprint, with one of the best, most knowledgeable fan bases in the country. It was consistent with the Big Ten’s “we do things different here” mentality: while much of the country expected the Big Ten to poach Texas or possibly add Rutgers. Chasing after Texan population growth or Rutgers as an entrĂ©e into the New York media market (and Big Ten Network carriage fees) was considered a given. The Big Ten’s decision to take Nebraska instead was seemingly consistent with a league that holds out for only academically elite schools and has staunchly opposed a college football playoff, preferring instead the Rose Bowl and the relationship with the Pacific-10 Conference.

One of the givens when Nebraska joined was that, with 12 members, the Big Ten would hold a conference championship game. The NCAA generally requires that member schools schedule no more than 12 Football contests per season. However, there are series of so-called “exempt” games, which don’t count against the 12-game limit. The most famous, of course, is a bowl game, but for our purposes we’re more interested in the “Conference Championship Game.” The rule allows leagues consisting of at least 12 members to split into 2 divisions of at least 6 members each, and play “round robin” competition within each division (although leagues usually also schedule a few games across the divisions). If a league complies with these rules, then the 2 Division Champions may play in a Conference Championship Game that does not count against the 12-game limit. Ever since Roy Kramer discovered this rule in the early 90s and his Southeastern Conference’s title game became a smash hit, it has been an on-again, off-again (but mostly on-again) trend in college football for leagues to get to 12 members and hold a nationally televised title game.

Almost from the day that Nebraska announced that they had joined, there was speculation about how the divisions would be drawn up. Some factions have said from the beginning that the easiest and most logical arrangement for the Big Ten would be a simple East/West split, with the following divisions:

East: Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue

West: Northwestern, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska

Immediately after Nebraska joined, Commissioner Jim Delany said that the league would have 3 “priorities,” in the following order: (a) “competitive fairness” (b) “maintenance of rivalries” and (c) “geography.” The emphasis on competitive fairness was thought by many to be a reference to splitting the so-called “Big Four” of Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan, and Penn State evenly into the 2 divisions (2 and 2) – obviously a deviation from a simple East/West geographic model. This sense was generally thought to have been confirmed when Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez was quoted as making statements along these same lines (although the careful reader will note some ambiguity). Although Alvarez was later quoted as reframing the analysis from splitting a “Big 4” to splitting a “Big 6” (including Wisconsin and Iowa), Commissioner Delany later poured further cold water on the possibility of a geographic alignment.

In recent days, further specifics have come out that make it clearer and clearer that the Big Ten has lost its way in drawing up the divisions. Most proposals for divisions have placed Michigan and Ohio State in the same division, on the theory that the best way for their traditional season-ending game to be emulated in the new era of a divisional league format is for them to be placed in the same division, with (assuming Michigan’s program rebounds) the division title and an appearance in the Conference Championship Game on the line in many seasons. However, news recently broke that OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith had suggested that they might actually be split; shortly thereafter, Michigan AD Dave Brandon stated much more specifically that it was likely to happen, and as of this writing it is considered all but a certainty.

Why does this matter to Michigan State? My position is that, whatever our feelings about Michigan, the tradition of the Michigan/Ohio State rivalry is a treasure that belongs to the entire Big Ten. What differentiates the Big Ten from much of the rest of the country is the way our league cherishes traditions – particularly traditions that matter. If we stand idly by and watch the Big Ten sell its soul in a misguided pursuit of a few extra TV nickels, it might be something that affects Michigan State next time. Besides that, there is every reason to believe that this effort will fail: an enormous part of the Big Ten’s brand identity is tied up in the notion that we aren’t the kind of place where we kowtow to TV demands. The Big Ten sat on 11 members for nearly 20 years, when going to 12 would have produced a lucrative championship game. The league has staunchly opposed a playoff, which would be more profitable than the bowl system, because it prefers the tradition of the relationship with the Rose Bowl and Pac-10. (Note: I prefer a playoff, but not because it would be more profitable, and I respect the Big Ten’s willingness to elevate tradition above money.) The Big Ten has refused to play on weeknights and places fairly strict limits on playing Saturday night games in the cold weeks of late Fall, even though making concessions on either point would likely be profitable and certainly would provide for more nationally televised games and greater exposure. The league currently utilizes an “unbalanced” schedule which protects traditional rivalry games over balance; thus Ohio State never loses two of the very good teams (Michigan and Penn State), Penn State never misses one very good team and one middle class team (Ohio State and Michigan State), but Wisconsin never misses only a pretty good team and a crummy team (Iowa and Minnesota). And that’s a good thing, I say: better to preserve those traditions and tolerate a little scheduling imbalance than eviscerate what makes college football special. Thus I am all the more shocked and saddened by the Big Ten’s apparent direction here.

It is worthwhile to take an aside here and address the point that was raised by President Graham Spanier of Penn State. He seems to feel that, so long as 2 rivals play annually, that is enough. But what makes a rivalry sizzle in most cases is jockeying for position in the standings against each other. The only way to do that is if the teams are both in the same division. That way, only one can finish in 1st place, and there’s more on the line when the game is played than mere bragging rights. I find it absurd and baffling that so many of the powers that be seem to think that, just because two teams play annually, that’s an adequate compromise. Unless they’re both in the same division, playing for the same title, and jockeying for position in the same standings, I fail to see what makes the rivalry really sizzle. I would argue that the Michigan/Ohio State rivalry became what it did because of the “Big 2, Little 8” Bo & Woody era, when so often their season-ending game had the league title on the line. Is there any doubt that it would not have become the same phenomenon if that hadn’t been such a routine situation?

What the Big Ten should do is use the geographic divisions. There are many reasons why. Some believe that geography per se is a sufficient reason to group the teams – a position I sympathize with. Ultimately, I think the Big Ten should use geographic divisions, although for non-geographic reasons (but referring to the alignment as the “geographic model” is a convenient shorthand). I reach that outcome by applying the following 4 rules:

1. Ohio State and Nebraska should not be in the same division. They’re the two most successful programs in the league (now that Nebraska is joining).

2. Ohio State and Michigan must be in the same division, for the reasons stated above.

3. Michigan and Michigan State must be in the same division, again for the reasons stated above.

4. Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota must be in a division together. The Big Ten has always been a league that depends on collegiality and treating the membership as fundamentally equal, even if this is not the practical reality; I consider it an important test of the Big Ten’s commitment to this principle that Minnesota’s traditional rivalries with Iowa and Wisconsin be honored, even if Minnesota’s program has not enjoyed the success of the league’s elites.

This produces two pairs of 3 teams each:

A: Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State

B: Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota

Because of the first rule, there are only two options for what to do with Nebraska. The first is to combine these two groups of 3 teams, and then have the other 6 teams form a division. Thus:

A: Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota

B: Nebraska, Penn State, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue

I consider this alignment laughably unbalanced; even if we cannot measure balance precisely, we can ask that it at least pass a smell test. As a result, we have to take the only other option for Nebraska, which is to put it with the triad of Plains States teams to form a quartet. Thus:

A: Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State

B: Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota

The next central question is what to do with Penn State. It’s been suggested that putting Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan in the same division would be “unbalanced” or “stacked.” So let’s assume that we separate Penn State from those other 2.

A′′: Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, [Purdue], [Illinois], [Northwestern]

B′′: Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, [Indiana]

The teams in brackets can be moved around interchangeably within these rules. I selected Indiana because it is pretty clearly the weakest team in the Big Ten. Yet even with Indiana in the B′′ group, it seems (once again) not to pass the balance smell test. Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Iowa all in the same group seems like an unfair slugfest to me – particularly given the clouds surrounding Michigan’s program. At least in the near-term, this alignment might as well be a bye for Ohio State into the championship game. As a result, it strikes me that the only logical thing to do is to put Penn State with Michigan State et al. Thus:

A: Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State

B: Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin

Once you have arrived at this alignment, all of the controversial decisions have been made. At this point, we’re left with 4 teams: Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue. These 4 teams logically can (and should) be split into 2 pairs of in-state rivals. Although the Illinois pair could be put with the “East” teams and the Indiana pair with the “West” teams consistent with these rules, what would be the point? Does anybody seriously believe that this would substantially affect the league’s competitive “balance”? I doubt it, and at this point (given the results of the process outlined here for making the controversial decisions) the only reason to deviate from assigning these 2 pairs east/west geographically would be to somehow assert our independence from geography (or as I like to say, change for change’s sake).

But we can talk about this all day. I, for one, intend to do what little I can about this situation, which I consider an unmitigated disaster for the Big Ten. We should be writing to the powers that be in the Big Ten. Consider dropping a letter or e-mail to some of the following individuals if you agree with me and want to express your displeasure:

Mr. James E. Delany

Commissioner, Big Ten Conference

1500 Higgins Road

Park Ridge, IL 60068-6300

Dr. Michael A. McRobbie, Chair

Council of Presidents/Chancellors, Big Ten Conference

200 Bryan Hall

107 S. Indiana Avenue

Bloomington, IN 47405-7000

Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon

President, Michigan State University

450 Administration Building

East Lansing, MI 48824-1046

Mr. Mark J. Hollis, Director

Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, Michigan State University

218 Jenison Fieldhouse

East Lansing, MI 48824-1025

Mr. Joel I. Ferguson, Chair

Board of Trustees, Michigan State University

1223 Turner Street, Ste. 300

Lansing, MI 48906-4363

Ms. Julia D. Darlow, Chair

Board of Regents, University of Michigan

P.O. Box 130047

Ann Arbor, MI 48113-0047

As near as I can tell, these are the people who answer to us, as Spartan students, alumni, and fans, who are in a position to do something about this mess. (Although Ms. Darlow is the Chair of the Michigan Regents, she’s elected, so if you’re a Michigan resident, she actually answers to you whether or not you’re associated with the University.) If we speak out, who knows – they might even listen to us. What’s more, they might actually do something about it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

MSU football jerseys on sale to the public Tuesday

By TOSSS contributor James Hensley

The Other Side of Spartan Sports has learned of a great opportunity for all MSU football fans. The MSU Surplus Store is hosting a sale of football team jerseys. These are game worn jerseys and are available for public purchase on Tuesday 7/13. The public can view them on Monday 7/12.

MSU Surplus Store
223 Surplus and Recycling Center
East Lansing, Michigan 48824-1238

The surplus store's normal public sale hours are:
7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Every Tuesday
7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Every Friday

Public Viewing Hours
Noon to 3:30 p.m. Every Monday, Wednesday & Thursday

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

TOSSS is mathematically challenged

KJ over at The Only Colors correctly pointed out that we jumped the gun by a month. 1,000 days will be on July 30, not June 30.

So our bad on that.

Still, 970 days since Michigan beat MSU in football or basketball - that's still something to celebrate, right?

1,000 Days since MSU lost to U-M in football or basketball

It has now been 1,000 days since the University of Michigan beat Michigan State in either football or men's basketball.

Enjoy it!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Inside the Izzo press conference

TOSSS sent special correspondent James Hensley to Tom Izzo's press conference to get a sense of the scene at arguably the biggest press conference in MSU history. Here is his report.

The scene at the press conference was more chaotic than the normally well organized events put on by the MSU Athletic Department. There were TV vans parked along the curb of Shaw Lane blocking traffic and at times pedestrian walkways and many camera guys running with cables - the last minute announcement caught them off guard.

In the back of the Clara Bell Smith Auditorium, off camera, over a 100 students (many of them Izzone members) and student athletes gathered to show support for their coach and team.

There are several ways to look at the last nine days that lead to the culmination with the press conference, for Tom Izzo and the MSU basketball team. The rest of the media has done great job speculating about if Izzo took too long in his decision, looking at the impact this decision will have on his recruiting and looking at the LeBron factor.

At the end of the day, Coach Izzo said that the process of consideration took longer because his kids were in finals and he was not going to make a family decision without their input and he waited until the end of finals to consult them.

At this point, how the decision was reached is inconsequential. The announcement by Izzo at this press conference was the end to flirtation with NBA coaching. Coach Izzo proclaimed the end the job process with Cleveland by stating “I’m a lifer.” Whatever thought process that he went through to arrive at that moment are part of the past.

Spotlight on the Athletic Department

The most important thing announced, besides that Izzo will stay at MSU, was that both AD Mark Hollis and Izzo signaled that, in Hollis' words, it's “time to move forward…to make the athletic department the best, not just the best we can be, the best."

Izzo followed up on Hollis rallying call by stating his admiration for football coach Mark Dantonio and reiterating that the goal now is to make the MSU Athletic Department one of the best in the country.

The repeated use and focus on the success of the Athletic Department, not just the basketball program, led me to wonder if there were some larger-picture discussions during this process. Will Coach Izzo play a more active advisory role in other sports than his own? Was there an Ron Mason-style informal nod that Izzo could become the AD if he were to ever retire from MSU basketball? Lastly, what were the common strategies that Hollis and Izzo have discussed that will propel MSU to be a leader in collegiate sports?

To me, those questions are much more important than questions lobbed at Tom Izzo during the press conference. Many of them (and most of those from a single Detroit News columnist) involved why Tom shut out the media during this process and claims that his silence lead to the numerous erroneous reports. Others centered on the role of LeBron James, whether he'd stay or not, which doesn't really affect MSU any more now that Izzo turned down the job in Cleveland.

A moment that brought a hush over the crowd was when most of the basketball team (Chris Allen the notable exception), without prompting, joined their coach on stage before he started his speech. Each player hugged or shook his hand before taking a stance behind Izzo on stage. It was a clear act of devotion, support and honor for their coach and a sign that maybe nobody is happier than them that his decision was to call MSU “home”.

When asked if there was an “Ah Ha” moment to solidify his decision to say, Izzo said that one thing that meant a lot to him was when he talked to his daughter. When asked why his daughter wanted to stay her. She replied that if she made new friends in Cleveland they would only be her friends because of who her dad was and the friends that she had made here they had made together while building the program.

Several people teared up at that response.

Lastly, Coach Izzo acknowledged the fans, stating “I appreciate all the support…emails, letters…it was embarrassing, but deeply appreciated.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dantonio on Nebraska

Mark Dantonio's statement on Nebraska joining the Big Ten, per the ESPN Big Ten blog:
During my four years as an assistant at Kansas and my first two years as an assistant at Michigan State, I had an opportunity to compete against Tom Osborne-coached Nebraska teams.

Coach Osborne had a Hall of Fame career, winning three national championships. Now, Bo Pelini is doing great things at Nebraska. His teams have won 19 games over the last two seasons.

As you know, I have great appreciation for the tradition of the college game and I admire the coaching connection between Nebraska and Michigan State. Legendary Nebraska head coach Bob Devaney got his start as an assistant under former Spartan head coaches ‘Biggie’ Munn and Duffy Daugherty in the 1950s. All three of those coaches are members of the College Football Hall of Fame.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rally to keep Tom Izzo tonight at Breslin

The Constitution guarantees Americans the right to peaceably assemble and petition for the redress of grievances.

Tonight, Spartan fans will peaceably assemble and petition Tom Izzo to stay in East Lansing with an impromptu rally at the Magic Johnson statue in front of the Breslin Center in an effort to keep Izzo from signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The rally starts at 9 p.m.

If you're within driving distance of East Lansing, I highly suggest you go. It might be your last, best chance at keeping him.

Spartan Tailgate is directing traffic on this one, so follow along here for more info.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Nebraska to leave Big 12, join the Big Ten

Depending on how much you believe Fox Sports Ohio and

Multiple reports now say Nebraska will leave the Big 12 and seek to join the Big Ten, with a formal announcement coming Thursday or Friday.

The Big 12 gave both Nebraska and Missouri, the two biggest targets in that conference, until Friday to decide if they're in or out. The Cornhuskers are apparently out.

The difficulty for these schools is that they've got to make up their mind to leave the Big 12 before any Big Ten invite formally comes. However, in reality land, there's no way in the world they'd possibly head out of a BCS conference without a golden ticket in hand.

Will the Big Ten give that assurance to Mizzou? We'll have to wait and see.

At this point though, you'd have to think three things:
  1. The Big Ten still wants Notre Dame.
  2. They won't want to become a 13-team league, so Mizzou would have to be paired with someone.
  3. Who's the backup to ND?