Monday, August 31, 2009

Cheap Tickets Preventing Montana State Sellout

Tickets are not exactly flying off the shelves at the MSU ticket office for the Montana State game - and given the used ticket market as it currently is it appears a sellout is now a virtual impossibility. Why? Simple economics.

Tickets on were retailing for as little as $12 each as of the writing of this post, less than half the $49 a pop they're on sale for at the Jenison Fieldhouse ticket office. In contrast, the cheapest tickets on StubHub for next week's game against Central are on sale for $35 - and if you want two together it'll be $50 a pop.

As of a week ago, about 5,000 tickets remained for the Montana State game. But given how discounted the prices in the resale market are, it would be unlikely for those 5,000 to be sold by MSU at retail cost before the lower-priced ones online get bought up.

In fairness, Athletic Department officials did say a while ago that they were anticipating six sellouts this season, with Montana State being the exception. And one could make the argument that, were MSU playing a squad people actually want to see, every seat at Spartan Stadium would already be sold. That's a fair point.

Given the financial strain MSU has to deal with thanks to Michigan's lousy economy, however, it's too bad that there won't be a sellout. But if you're a poor Spartan fan looking for a cheap ticket, well, maybe it's not so bad.

Zeke Ready for Game Time

While there will be quite a lot of change on the football field this season - a new quarterback and running back to name two - one of Michigan State's most iconic traditions will be back. Yes, the yellow lab best known to MSU fans as Zeke the Wonderdog will return for another season.

I spoke the other day with Jim Foley, Zeke's trainer, who told me that the dog has made big strides since last season. That's saying something for a dog specifically bred for disc catching that was already capable of 50-yard touchdown receptions.

Zeke III is MSU's fourth disc-catching wonderdog, after Zeke and Keze in the late 1970s and early 80s, and Zeke II, the dog that restarted the tradition in 2001. Zeke II (a black lab known at home as Dexter) retired after two games in 2007 due to problems with cataracts. Zeke II still does guest appearances at a few of Zeke III's shows catching short passes that he can see.

Some other bits of Zeke trivia:
  • The name Keze was picked in a contest run by the Lansing State Journal. She was supposed to be Zeke I's full-time replacement, but got hit by a car and died in 1982.
  • Zeke's green coat cannot be purchased in stores. It is custom-tailored by a lady in East Lansing who does those sort of things.
  • You can schedule Zeke to come to your tailgate party for just $50. The reservation form can be found here.
  • I feel a particular affection for the whole Zeke program in part because when I worked for the Lansing State Journal I broke the news that Zeke II would retire, as well as that a yellow lab named BooCoo (now Zeke III) would replace him a week later. The story was set to run Zeke's last game day Saturday, but we almost got scooped by a producer for Hondo Carpenter's TV show who stumbled across our cover shoot on Adams Field but (thankfully) didn't press too hard with questions about what we were up to.
  • A used disc from that photo shoot, complete with teeth marks, still hangs on my wall.
Zeke III has been making the rounds at canine disc catching competitions this summer (yes, such things exist), as well as NFL preseason games, so he should be in midseason form by the time halftime of the Montana State game comes, Foley said.

Foley told me to expect great things from Zeke this year, including even longer passes and a few more trick shot catches. In fact, the dog is getting so good that his disc touchdown catching may only be limited this season by the strength and accuracy of Foley's throwing arm.

Photo courtesy of MSU Alumni Association

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Freep: Michigan Violated NCAA Rules, MSU Didn't

A Detroit Free Press investigation that found Michigan football officials violated NCAA rules, including those on off-season workouts and contact between coaches and players, did not uncover any rule-breaking by Michigan State.

From the Freep's report:
Players on the 2008 and 2009 teams described training and practice sessions that far exceeded limits set by the NCAA, which governs college athletics. The restrictions are designed to protect players’ well-being, ensure adequate study time and prevent schools from gaining an unfair competitive advantage.

The players, who did not want to be identified because they feared repercussions from coaches, said the violations occurred routinely at the direction of Rodriguez’s staff.

“It’s one of those things where you can’t say something,” one current Wolverine said. “If you say something, they’re going to say you’re a lazy person and don’t want to work hard.”

My thoughts when reading the detailed violations laid out in Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder's comprehensive report were, in order, "Holy crap" then "I hope State's not a part of this." And according to three former players, including Javon Ringer and Otis Wiley, MSU plays by the rules. And thank goodness for that, because the NCAA penalties for this could be severe.

Major NCAA violations can carry penalties from banning coaches and players, forcing games off television, scholarship reductions and even bowl bans. The ultimate penalty, the so-called "death penalty", would be to ban Michigan from even playing football at all - but that hasn't been used since it killed off the once-dominant Southern Methodist program 1987, and these violations aren't nearly that severe.

This isn't a time to gloat at Michigan's misfortune, however.

The best thing for MSU football is to dominate a worthy opponent and earn its way to becoming the undisputed number one program in the state. I want to beat a great Michigan team, each and every year. Sure, a win is a win, but I don't want to win this way. Part of me hopes this isn't actually true - Michigan did deny the allegations in statements to the Freep - but I'm mindful that the state of Michigan's best newspaper did just get a Pulitzer for investigative coverage, and the two reporters on this story have a professional reputation beyond reproach.

The NCAA should take whatever steps are necessary to clean up Michigan's program, as well as any other program doing this. If that means getting rid of Rich Rodriguez and all his assistants, fine. But I'm hoping this doesn't kill off Michigan football.

I want the so-called leaders and best at their best. But cheating to get there is unacceptable. And while this is not a time to gloat over someone else's misfortune, MSU fans should be proud that Mark Dantonio hasn't done that.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Final Four Friday: Neutral Site Games

It’s almost game time for MSU football, which means it’s time to return to a TOSSS tradition of Final Four Friday! Today, we’re looking at the option for MSU to play in an NFL stadium for a “neutral site game”.

Penn State and Indiana have set an example for the rest of the Big Ten, as Indiana moved its 2010 home tie with the Nittany Lions to FedEx Field in Landover, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. There are benefits aplenty for both schools – Penn State getting essentially an extra home game while Indiana hauls in $2 million more in gate receipts – so why can’t Michigan State have a part of that action?

We already know the university would consider it. The MSU-Western game this year was supposed to be held in Detroit at Ford Field, and the Florida Atlantic return game will either be at Ford Field, Chicago’s Soldier Field or Miami’s Land Shark Stadium.

Not counting FAU, here is our Final Four of possible destinations that make sense for both MSU and the opponent.

Soldier Field, Chicago – Illinois

While the Illini may have the occasional good year – and under Ron Zook they’ll get more and more of them – it’s no secret that they can’t sell out their own stadium. Memorial Stadium only seats about 62,000, and at 61,500, Soldier Field is about the same size.

But this time, it would sell out.

MSU’s largest alumni base outside of Michigan is in Chicago, about 20,000 strong. Illinois’ largest alumni base full top is in Chicago. You’d better believe they’d pack every seat in that stadium for what would be the most raucous “home” game the Illini would have all year.

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis – Indiana

Indiana’s already going to D.C., may as well make the shorter trip to Indy, right? MSU has a great tradition in Indianapolis, including the men’s basketball 2000 national championship and the 2005 women’s team’s run to the Final Four – including the program’s biggest-ever win in the semifinals over Tennessee.

This wouldn’t be as much of a home game for MSU as facing the Illini in Chicago, but the game would definitely sell out. That’s a win-win in my book.

Ford Field, Detroit – Eastern Michigan

The Eagles don’t host MSU until either 2018 or 2020, and you can mark down my prediction right now that this game won’t be played in Rynearson Stadium. Go ahead, mark it down.

For one, that stadium only holds 30,200 fans. For two, well, that stadium only holds 30,200 fans.

There are two other stadiums Eastern could move that game to with no difficulty and guarantee a sellout. One is the Big House in Ann Arbor. The other is Ford Field in Detroit. And I doubt very much that the good folks at Michigan will want an MSU home game in their building.

Ford Field makes sense for the Eagles. A 60,000+ crowd at home would triple – yes, triple – their average attendance. The tickets would be pricier. There are luxury boxes galore that would sell out fast. Do the math and it’s not hard to envision Eastern getting more money out of this one game than the rest of their games combined.

Cowboys Stadium, Dallas – Baylor

OK, so this one might seem like a reach given that we don’t play Baylor, but hear me out.

That is a football team on the rise, a little like Cal and Rutgers were earlier this decade. What they need are marquee opponents willing to do home-and-home deals to really establish themselves in what is a hotbed of football. Enter MSU, a team that historically loves to play that sort of role.

Baylor’s Floyd Casey Stadium seats 50,000. Cowboys Stadium seats 80,000. Waco to Dallas is an hour and a half drive. A big-time opponent like MSU in the Bears’ biggest in-state home base outside Waco is a match made in heaven. Plus, MSU gets a chance to head down to the fertile Texas recruiting base to meet and greet a few 16 and 17-year-old future phenoms. It’d be great.

And the winner is – Soldier Field.

It has been the dream of MSU's long-suffering Chicago alums for far too long. It's time to make it happen.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The SEC and the Future of College Football Coverage

A battle over the future of media coverage in college football is being fought in the Southeastern Conference and the results will be felt in every stadium across America.

At issue is the SEC's new credential agreement, something each media organization must agree to before accepting press credentials. Those include:
  • No audio or video highlights on any newspaper websites (something the Lansing State Journal does regularly)
  • Time limits on photo and video use for everyone else
  • No archiving or selling game photos - but the SEC is allowed to do that with the media photos and keep the proceeds
  • No live blogging
Under a strict interpretation of rules like these, WLNS couldn't do a year in review of MSU football, the LSJ's photo shop would be sliced and diced and both the LSJ and Free Press' game day blogging operations would end. And rest assured, if the SEC gets away with this, there will be nothing to stop every other major conference from doing exactly the same thing.

It's not that schools want to restrict coverage. It's more that they want the media to pay for the privilege. Television and radio rights are very expensive, but there's nothing really like that for rights to highlights or print coverage. Live blogs, in some folks' eyes, take away the exclusivity of the live broadcast deals, and by blocking them the hope is that said deals will become even more exclusive (read: expensive). And who knows, maybe you could sell the live blogging rights?

But the new SEC credential rules haven't gone over well with some titans of media, like the Associated Press and Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper chain (Full disclosure: My former employer, the LSJ, is a Gannett paper). Both mammoth news organizations have refused to sign on so far, saying the rules are overly restrictive and onerous.

The move has teeth because Gannett owns some of the biggest papers in the SEC footprint. The (Nashville) Tennesseean, Louisville Courier-Journal, Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser are all Gannett papers - and I'm sure the folks at Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn want their biggest area papers to cover their games. And most of the other papers in the SEC's footprint, as well as most national sports websites, rely on the Associated Press feed for coverage.

Again, consider Michigan State as an example. Can you imagine gameday coverage with no Detroit Free Press, Lansing State Journal, or WZZM-TV (Grand Rapids)? All are Gannett properties. And just try reading about MSU on national websites like or without the AP. Except for the biggest games, there would basically be the Detroit News, Booth Newspapers, local TV and nothing else. No Joe Rexrode, no Shannon Shelton, none of that.

The battle lines have been drawn. The SEC wants greater control of their games, and the ability to make more money off it. The media folks want to be able to control their coverage, understandable since they're paying people to cover games.

We'll be following this case, because whatever happens will have huge ramifications for college football teams and coverage across the nation.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Discounts Driving Ticket Sales

It's not accurate to say that Michigan State football hasn't felt the sting of the economy. It is accurate, however, to say that MSU has found a way to keep folks paying to come to games despite the down economy, and that's why Sparty is still on track to equal or better its 2008 season ticket sales of 58,708.

The key has been, according to an Associated Press report, discounts offered to new alums and the family plans, as well as "aggressive advertising."

One tactic MSU hasn't been willing to take so far for football is that of mini packs, something offered at other FBS schools, including Maryland and Purdue. Those combine one of the "big" games (Ohio State or Notre Dame, in Purdue's case, Virginia Tech for Maryland) with other games less likely to sell out on their own. MSU has done a version of that for hockey in previous years, though the buyer picked all of the games.

As we've explained in several posts, football is the breadwinner for the entire athletic department. If it does well, the department does well. If it suffers, everyone suffers.

To be sure, MSU would rather sell out Spartan Stadium at full price. It costs the university $11 a game for each family plan season ticket sold ($33/game) instead of a full-price season ticket ($44/game). But wouldn't you rather have $33 a game - $231 for the season - than nothing at all? And remember that number doesn't include concessions, souvenirs or parking fees, which all help MSU's bottom line.

Discounts, once dismissed out of hand, are now a fact of life for almost every sports team, college or pro, given the terrible economy. And while MSU's certainly taking a hit in an effort to sell out the stadium, fans should take heart that the ticket office is getting the job done filling the place.

Update: WILX's Tim Staudt got to peek at actual ticket counts and reports that MSU has 5,000 tickets left for the Montana State game and about 700 left for Central. The rest of the games are already sold out or on pace to do just that.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sparty's Fantasy Value

About a month ago, we put out a guide to Spartan alums you might be thinking of drafting for your fantasy football teams. To recap: We thought wide receivers Devin Thomas, Muhsin Muhammad and Derrick Mason were worth drafting in any league, and you might want to consider taking a chance on RB Javon Ringer, TE Chris Baker and K Dave Rayner.

Now, we can't very well give out an authoritative guide without putting it through its paces, so that's just what we're doing right now. For a reference point, I'm using the fantasy football draft recently completed in the league both TOSSS writers compete in. The league is 12 teams, conventional scoring, starting 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 RB/WR, 1TE, 1K, 1TD.

Here are the MSU alums who were selected:

Round 8, Pick 1 - Derrick Mason, WR, Baltimore Ravens: Mason was picked between the Philadelphia defense and tight end Greg Olsen, in my eyes about right for him.

Round 10, Pick 1 - Muhsin Muhammad, WR, Carolina Panthers: The same guy who picked up Mason took Muhammad one round later, and I think got a great deal. Muhammad is arguably a better choice than Mason, head to head, and to get him just before a Round 10 run on kickers was a great play. You don't often find #2 WRs in the 10th round, and that's what the player got here. Great value.

Round 16, Pick 7 - Javon Ringer, RB, Tennessee Titans: The owner here had picked up LenDale White in the 5th round and took Ringer as insurance. That's the best way to pick someone like Ringer - a guy who could explode with time on the field who could alternately be worth nothing if he doesn't play. I took Minnesota RB Chester Taylor, the backup to #2 overall pick Adrian Peterson, in the 13th round for exactly the same reason, so I'm going to say this was a pretty solid pick.

Devin Thomas was a surprise slip - he didn't get drafted at all - though very few Washington Redskins were drafted in our league.

So let that guide you. If you're looking for a Spartan wideout and you want Thomas, feel free to wait. Muhammad may slip as well. But if you want Mason, be willing to spend an earlier pick, because you might not get him otherwise.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Football Schedule is Pure Michigan

Cue Tim Allen, because Mark Hollis has scripted a Pure Michigan commercial and saved a ton of cash in one deft football scheduling move.

Michigan State today announced plans for a trio of 3-1 series (three home games, one away) with Western, Central and Eastern Michigan. The visit to Mt. Pleasant in 2012 will be MSU's first visit to what is now a MAC school since 1899, when Eastern Michigan was still known as Michigan State Normal.

Now, I know Hollis and MSU President Lou Anna Simon are loyal to the state, but this was about money as much as anything. Here's what Hollis said of the reasons for making it:
Financially, the series provides a positive for each university with regards to game guarantees, regionalized travel expenses, and keeps revenues within the boundaries of the state of Michigan. The games will also provide a positive economic impact on the state of Michigan from teams and fans that spend dollars in our state with travel, housing, dining, and other activities on game days.
Let me translate that for you: It's a helluvalot cheaper to bus a football team to East Lansing from Kalamazoo than fly them in from Montana. It's so much cheaper, in fact, that MSU will still make money off this deal even though they'll lose three home games over the next 10 years. Although, to be fair, one can't deny that on an altruistic level that Hollis knows most Spartan fans would rather see MSU-Eastern Michigan than MSU-Eastern Washington.

Some fans I've talked to wonder why we're giving Directional Michigan a return match. The answer to that, simply, is that FBS teams now just aren't signing one-off tilts like they used to. You saw this with Michigan, which tried to get a BCS-caliber team to open its 2010 season without a return date, but eventually had to settle for a home-and-home with UConn because no one would agree to a match in Ann Arbor without the Wolverines returning the favor.

On a more personal note, I love this move. Unequivocally love it. I've always thought MSU should have a constant, formulaic schedule that goes as follows:

vs. Directional Michigan
vs. FBS team of some quality or lower-level BCS team (Baylor, Vandy, Syracuse, Washington State, etc.)
vs. good BCS team (Alabama, Cal, WVa, etc.)
vs. Notre Dame
Big Ten Schedule

This move brings us one step closer to that ideal.

I've got one question that hasn't been answered, however, and it involves television. MSU has a streak of televised games stretching years back, but the Big Ten Network doesn't have guaranteed rights to away games. It won't be an issue if both teams are good, but what if Eastern's as terrible in 2018 or 2020 as they are now? My guess is that the Big Ten Network will sort out a one-off deal with the host MAC school to be able to show the game, particularly if one of the schools is as good as Western or Central are now.

Overall, this is a deal that makes total sense for all involved. It's a patriotic one, if one can be patriotic toward a state. Most importantly, it will save Michigan State's athletics department a ton of cash - and that's crucial given how bad the Michigan economy has been recently.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

MSU Makes College GameDay Roster

Michigan State's men's basketball squad will grace ESPN College GameDay's prestigious stage this season, officials at the network have confirmed.

The game will take place Feb. 6, when the Spartans play at Illinois. It's one of seven men's basketball games, and one women's game, College GameDay will attend this season - and the only tilt involving Big Ten teams.

MSU has a somewhat prestigious history with College GameDay, as one of just 14 schools to host the football and basketball versions. This will be State's fourth appearance on the basketball show, the third time as the visiting squad. MSU played at Ohio State and hosted Indiana in 2005, and then at Indiana in 2008.

State's inclusion on the GameDay list reflects media expectations for the coming year, with a top-10 showing expected despite losing three centers and all-world defensive guard (and the team's heart and soul) Travis Walton.

It also reflects the prestige the Spartans' program has earned because, quite frankly folks, they ain't going to see the Illini. That's not a dig at Bruce Weber's team, or the tradition at Assembly Hall. Rather, its a note that State has elevated itself into the rarefied air of a national basketball program that people from coast to coast want to watch. We're not UNC, Duke or Kentucky yet, but exposure-wise, we're getting close.

As for the football version of College GameDay, MSU's chances of making it this year aren't that great. MSU's four football GameDay appearances have involved Michigan (1997 and 1999), Notre Dame (2004) and Penn State (2005), as well as students throwing various and sundry projectiles at Lee Corso when he inevitably picks against Sparty.

Unlike its basketball counterpart, the football GameDay program doesn't make its location picks until 1-2 weeks before game time. This season's first two games are the only ones set so far - Alabama @ Va Tech in week one, followed by USC @ Ohio State.

The trouble for State is that the schedule realistically doesn't set up for an appearance this year. The two MSU-Michigan games were when both teams were ranked in the top 15. The 2004 match against Notre Dame was only broadcast on GameDay because Hurricane Ivan threatened the previously-scheduled LSU @ Auburn game. And the 2005 Penn State game was broadcast because of the storyline surrounding Joe Paterno and how the Nittany Lions turned around their program.

Here are the games there's a chance for, and why it likely ain't gonna happen:

@ Notre Dame - NBC owns the rights to games in South Bend, and ESPN isn't going to feature a game it can't broadcast.

vs. Iowa - This should be a great game, but unfortunately neither State nor Iowa are the "national powerhouses," and there's almost an unwritten rule that one team in the game should be - especially early in the season.

vs. Michigan - Frankly, they won't be good enough.

vs. Penn State - This is the best chance, and only if the game will decide the Big Ten championship. Working against us: The fact that GameDay loves a night game, and Big Ten rules prohibit November matches starting in the 7 p.m. window. They'd have to run a 3:30 p.m. game, which isn't unprecedented, but isn't the favorite option.

If you like the shows, head to Champaign-Urbana. Because unless miracles happen, that's the only time you'll see MSU and a GameDay crew in the same building this year.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The (Many) Only Colors

What are the official colors of Michigan State University? Green and white, right? Well, sort of.

White, yes, but which green? Is it a dark forest green, a bright wintergreen or something closer to emerald, grass or turf? Anyone who has ever browsed the Student Book Store can tell you that merchandise is rarely, if ever, the same shade of green. Come to that, the football team's helmets and home jerseys are often different colors.

Turns out, MSU's official shade of green is Pantone Matching System 341, which is printed at left. Again, sort of. See, colors look different from monitor to monitor, so you may not be seeing what I'm seeing as I form this post. The official color, according to the folks at University Relations, is therefore only expressable in print - though President Lou Anna Simon does get as close as she can on her official website. Thus, anyone who tried to answer this age-old question through Wikipedia gets a close, but not quite correct answer.

It's no wonder fans are confused on this point. Take, for example, the following picture at of Idong Ibok kissing the floor of the Breslin Center.

Ibok is sporting no fewer than four shades of green on one MSU uniform. His shoulders are slightly darker than his pants. His pants are close, but not quite the same shade as his name. And it's all a good deal darker than the comparatively light double-zero on his back.

Heather Swain, assistant vice president of University Relations explains:

"When it comes to apparel and much other merchandise... the MSU mark is allowed on items that come in a variety of colors to allow for fashion and to ensure broad appeal (profits support a scholarship fund). In addition, not all athletics uniforms are the same green, in large part because the fabric used by various suppliers varies a bit in color."

On Ibok's Nike uniform, the shirt is a slightly different material than the pants, ditto for the name and number. That's why one sees four shades of green. Swain's explanation also explains the bizarre phenomenon of MSU's football jerseys and helmets never matching.

The other intriguing thing to me is that the university sanctions not just the unintentional variances, but the intentional ones as well. Exhibit A1 on this being University Relations' own website, part of which is backed by something resembling spearmint.

As it turns out, MSU doesn't much care what one does in terms of color (that's why you see those stupid light blue and white MSU shirts) with one exception. According to the University's Merchandising Color Graphic Standard (yes, there is such a thing), "concepts whose color executions are confusingly similar to the color palates of competing Big Ten Conference institutions will likely be denied."

And that's why, while MSU departments may use all shades of green under the rainbow, they'll never mock up a university website in maize and blue.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Construction Update: Football Traffic

At last week's Construction Junction, there were updates given on a lot of the road construction and parking issues around campus that could have affected football season. Lets run through some quick updates:

Farm Lane:

As we first reported back in April, Farm Lane will not be ready and open for football season. They suffered another setback because of all of the rain so far in August, and not all of the drainage is completely functional yet. They were granted an extension until September 22nd, and that is the current date they are looking at for reopening the road and sidewalks. The comment at the Construction Junction was "We might be able to do better, but that's the plan."

It should be noted that the date of September 22nd is for opening the road, not the completion of all work. There will be periodic lane closures for landscaping work, etc. related to the project. Those lane closures most likely won't occur on game days.

Mt. Hope Road Reconstruction:

They are scheduled to reopen the closed section of Mt. Hope (currently by the commuter lot from Farm Lane to Harrison) tomorrow, August 18th at the latest. It could already be open (I've not driven over there) because as of last week they were "Quite a bit ahead of schedule." At this point the section from Harrison west to the US127 overpass will go down to one lane in each direction. While this will cause some traffic backups, it should not be nearly as big of a problem as the full road closure has been. They have had to put flaggers at some intersections because of traffic backups.

One consideration here though is that the intersection of Mt. Hope and Harrison will be reconfigured slightly during the construction, and so there may be some slow down at this point on football Saturdays. But that said, with the pace they are ahead of schedule, it's possible that this project won't last long into the season anyway.

Birch and Wilson:

This was supposed to be done last Friday, but is running delayed. Roads and sidewalks should now open on Saturday, August 22nd at the latest, so no issues for football here.


Shaw by the Cyclotron has been down to one lane for much of the summer. This will be back to normal by football season.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Victims' View of Second Chances

There's another view of second chances for student athletes who get in trouble, one that often goes under the radar. And that's the one of the victim.

A.J. Sturges, the MSU hockey player assaulted by Glenn Winston, recently released a statement on Winston's reinstatement, a note the LSJ's Joe Rexrode posted in its entirely on his blog. Here's the key bit:
In my opinion, the immediate reinstatement of Glenn Winston to the football team reflects very poorly on Michigan State Athletics. This decision has established weak precedent for future athletes involved in violent crimes.
It's tough to fault Sturges for his point of view here, I'm not sure that I'd feel any different were I in his position. That said, Winston did spend about four months in jail for the fight, which is a hell of a long time for a sucker punch. He's definitely paid his debt to society, and America is a nation that loves to forgive.

I guess it's no surprise then, that our poll on MSU's second chance policies is pretty evenly split between those who want the university to crack down and those who think giving folks like Winston a second chance is a great idea.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Value of Integrity

It's a simple word, integrity, but it means so much. If a coach has it, players can feel comfortable taking their advice both on and off the field, and the fans can cheer for the team without worrying that, someday later, they'll regret it.

Tom Izzo has that integrity. And once again, today, I was reminded of why that sets him apart from so many of his so-called contemporaries.

Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino had been fighting off rape allegations, made by someone who is now being charged with blackmailing the coach. However, in the course of proving her case false, it came out that Pitino (who is married with five kids) had an affair with her and then gave her $3,000 to have an abortion.

That got me thinking about something that, pardon the term, really grinds my gears.

Every year, we have to deal with a crap ton of mindless sportswriters hemming and hawing about who has the best college basketball coach. Is it Pitino, despite this indiscretion? John Calipari of Kentucky, despite the persistent rumors of recruiting improprieties? Bill Self, who has flipped off opposing student sections that annoyed him - including the Izzone?

The next ESPN or Sports Illustrated writer who pens one of these, I hope he or she takes a second to consider integrity. Consider the fact that Tom Izzo doesn't have that persistent cloud of scandal hanging over himself or his program. Consider that the biggest character flaw the guy has is either riding lazy players (Marquis Gray, Kelvin Torbert) or tiring himself out by giving too much time to too many charities.

Most of all, consider how much better it is to be a State fan, knowing you can tell your kids about what a great coach - and a great man - the old basketball coach is. I don't know about you, but I don't want a tainted coach, never mind how many wins they bring you.

They say one can't put a price on things like integrity. They're right, you can't. But perhaps one of these days, one of those big-shot journalists could lend it a bit more value.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is a 2nd Chance the Right Choice?

Sophomore RB Glenn Winston has been released from the Ingham County Jail and has rejoined the MSU football team as it starts practices this week. This is significant as it gives us a glimpse into how Coach Dantonio will work with his student athletes who make significant wrong choices in life and end up having to make amends to more than just a coach or a professor. It got me thinking about the differences, if any, in approach between Dantonio and past MSU coaches when it came to significant issues such as legal trouble.

One of the most obvious and serious events that comes to mind was when TE Eric Knott and QB Damon Dowdell were involved in an incident with a 13 year old girl in Detroit. The incident occurred while they were both recruits, and it occurred during the "changeover" year from Nick Saban to Bobby Williams. Both were eventually admitted to the university and saw playing time with the team. MSU student groups, including the Womyn's Council, protested outside Spartan Stadium during games. (Anyone remember the 49-3 thumping UM gave MSU in 2002? Starting at QB that game was Damon Dowdell. Who did he throw the most passes to? Eric Knott.) 2nd Chance.

After the aforementioned UM game, RB Dawan Moss dragged a police officer with his car while he was out drinking and driving, and was quickly charged with felony eluding a police officer. He was kicked off of the team about the same time that Coach Williams was replaced by Morris Watts. Kicked Off Team.

A few years ago Jeff Smoker had his substance abuse issues. He left the team mid-season and was checked into a drug treatment facility. While this is technically different than legal action against him, it brings up many of the same questions. It helped to contribute to the downfall of his coach, Bobby Williams, and one of the first major issues Coach Smith had to deal with was the steps Smoker needed to complete to rejoin the team. 2nd Chance.

And last summer, three football players were cited for briefly running from police on campus. Charles Burrell, Mitchel White, and Cameron Jude were all allowed to stay on the team after the situation was resolved. 2nd Chance.

So, it looks like 2nd chances are somewhat normal in these situations, even when the events that trigger them are major, such as sexual assault and substance abuse. Some will argue that football players are role models and these things should not be tolerated. Others will say that these are kids who make mistakes in life, and need this amazing 2nd chance to keep from falling into a worse situation in life. What do you think?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ford or Soldier Field?

So it looks like Michigan State will get to play in an NFL stadium after all.

It would have happened this year, but the economy forced Western Michigan to give up its game against MSU at Ford Field in favor of an additional Spartan home game. Now, it appears all-but certain that Sparty will play in an NFL stadium in 2010, as stadium construction delays are forcing Florida Atlantic to move the game.

FAU now is considering three options - two of which would be very conducive for Spartan fans. The Palm Beach Post reported that Ford Field in Detroit and Soldier Field in Chicago are the front-runners, with Land Shark Stadium (home of the Miami Dolphins, a park formerly known as Dolphins, Pro Player and Joe Robbie Stadium) as the backup.

The expectation would be to sell 50,000 tickets in either Chicago or Detroit - while the Florida option would be a last resort that would lose the university money.

I think the smart call here is to go to Detroit. The capacity is only about 60,000, and the Detroit area is home to about 80,000 State alums, as opposed to about 22,000 in Chicago. If you're FAU, a sellout here is a virtual necessity. Either option would work well, and I suspect would draw a good crowd.

But if I'm FAU, and the whole of my athletic department's budget is hinging on turning a profit, I go for the sure thing. That's Detroit.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

ESPN's New World Order

ESPN this week has been playing with the idea of a New World Order in college football, pairing down the 120 FBS teams to 40 teams who can actually compete. Just a couple years ago, there would have been no chance for MSU to be included on this list. But welcome to the big time MSU!

In ESPN's official draft of college teams, MSU was taken with pick #34 of the 40 picks in the draft. Too low? Remember that another 80 teams didn't get picked at all, including five Big Ten squads. ESPN cited our "great fans" and our strong ticket sales even through those long, hard football years, as well as our more recent success under Coach Dantonio as evidence we belong in the new top subdivision.

Other good news? ESPN put the same question to the general public, and MSU made the cut there too! In fact, the fan vote had MSU at #22 with 31.8% of the ballots including MSU in the 40 to make the cut (as of this post). This is just more evidence of the strong national perception that Coach Dantonio has brought to East Lansing.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Open Letter to Mike Ilitch

Dear Mr. Ilitch,

I read today in the Detroit Free Press that your iconic firm, Little Caesars, is in talks to purchase the naming rights to the Motor City Bowl, now that GM has pulled out of sponsoring the annual Boxing Day bowl game.

According to Motor City Bowl CEO George Perles, your pizza chain is being offered not just an add-on name (like the Little Caesars Motor City Bowl), but a full-scale rebranding. Perles suggested the "Little Caesars Pizza Pizza Bowl," though it could easily be the Little Caesars Bowl or Little Caesars Hot n' Ready Bowl.

Mike, you're an icon in Detroit. You own not only one of the most recognizable Michigan brands in the world, but the greatest hockey franchise of all time - the Detroit Red Wings - and the up-and-coming Detroit Tigers. So why not use this time to show us all just how much of a Detroit guy you are?

Mr. Ilitch, I'm asking you to keep the "Motor City" name. Sure, tack on "Little Caesars" if you want, no one would have an issue with that. But other bowls have seen identity problems with re-branding their games, specifically that casual fans don't know which ones they are.

It's a simple case of brand identity - something I hardly need to explain to Mr. "Pizza, Pizza." You can't really have a discussion about the Capital One Bowl without mentioning that it used to be the Citrus Bowl. Ditto the Chick-fil-A Bowl, formerly the Peach Bowl.

We all know that Perles has dreams of moving the bowl up the Big Ten's postseason lineup - so that a Big Ten squad will always come to Detroit. The dream has always been to get Michigan State or Michigan in the game. Surely, sir, you wouldn't want to damage what prestige the bowl has worked so hard to earn by destroying its brand identity, would you?

Mr. Ilitch, you're a Detroit man, through and through. You're the guy who, when GM decided not to re-up its sponsorship of the center field fountains at Comerica Park, decided to allow the Big Three to advertise there all year long for free. You have invested your fortune in Detroit enterprises, and you knows how big this game can be for the city - and your wife's MotorCity Casino.

So Mike, given all that, do us a favor. Don't kill the name. Add Little Caesars to the moniker, but please keep the Motor City in the Motor City Bowl.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Top-Five Mascot

The Washington Times has decided to rate the top mascot brands in college athletics, and wouldn't you know it but a familiar face found its way into the top five.

Yep, sitting there at number four is our very own Sparty. Here's the Times' rationale:
Though the school's nickname has been the Spartans since 1925, the brawny, foam rubber incarnation didn't appear until 1989. Sparty has been a dominant force since, winning best mascot at the Universal Cheer and Dance Association College Nationals three times. EA Sports recently conducted a poll to see which mascot would become the first nonathlete to grace the cover of its NCAA Football 09 edition, and Sparty won by more than 75,000 votes.
Sparty was bested by that annoying Notre Dame leprechaun, the Duke Blue Devil, and Otto the Orange from Syracuse. Florida State's Chief Osceola came fifth.

And to that I say: Are you kidding me, Washington Times, a freakin' orange? Over the guy Muscle and Fitness Magazine named "Buffest Mascot" in America? The only thing likely to come of a battle between Otto and Sparty is juice.

Outrage aside, I can forgive the Times for their misstep. See, they don't have much college football in the D.C. area. And the best D-1 program the Times covers is Maryland, whose idea of a fearsome mascot is a turtle.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Derrick Mason Messed Up My Guide to Fantasy Football

So Derrick Mason decided, just days after we published the official guide to Spartans in fantasy football, to unretire and muck up everything.

Not to worry though, we'll just amend the damn thing.

Mason, in my book, is the prototypical fantasy #2 WR - about 1,000 yards and 5-10 TDs each year. Mason was on the low end of that last year (1,036 yds, 5 TDs) with the Baltimore Ravens, as the team suffered statistically early on under rookie QB Joe Flacco before the former Delaware gunslinger found the ropes and steered the Ravens to the playoffs.

Now that Flacco's in his second year, Mason will be even more valuable, despite his advancing age (he's 35). Mark Clayton is the younger, faster WR, but Mason's still going to get his.

He's a solid pick as a #2 or very strong #3 in all leagues.