Revisiting Michigan State

There has been a lot of discussion about the OTL report since my last post that needs to be addressed. Most notably the intensity of the responses to this report, particularly from Michigan State supporters and media members who cover Michigan State athletics. I want to break down these responses into a few categories and provide some additional information to help clarify some points of contention.

Why were players named who were accused of sexual assault but not charged?

This seems to be the most commonly posed question of the original ESPN report as well as their follow-up report this week in which a current MSU basketball player was named  as being accused of sexual assault but not charged. Without context it may sound unfair to name this player as that has not been the practice of local media covering MSU when accusations occur; their local media has waited until charges have been filed to name the player. However, withholding names of college athletes accused but not charged with sexual assault is not a common practice nationally. Here are some examples where athletes had not been charged with sexual assault yet were still named:

Boise State– Names and pictures of the accused appear in the article, yet no charges had been made.

No criminal charges have been brought against the players.

http://www.idahostatesman.com/sports/college/mountain-west/boise-state-university/boise-state-football/article79987567.html

UCLA– Name appears in article, no charge.

Charges have not been filed.

http://www.latimes.com/sports/sportsnow/la-sp-sn-torian-white-sexual-assault-ucla-football-20131120-story.html#nt=featured-content

Minnesota– Name and picture appears in article, no charge.

Prosecutors declined to charge him, and a university probe cleared him of wrongdoing.

Oregon– Name and picture in article, investigation ongoing but no mention of charges.

http://katu.com/news/local/former-u-of-o-basketball-player-under-investigation-for-sexual-assault

North Carolina– Named in video report, no charges.

https://collegefootball.ap.org/video/video-unc-football-player-accused-sexual-assault

Houston Baptist– Names and pictures in the report, no charges.

http://www.fox26houston.com/news/two-hbu-football-players-accused-of-sexual-assault

NC State– Names and pictures in the report, no charges.

http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/crime/article173586621.html

And the most famous case of a player being named with no charges, Jameis Winston at Florida State.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/no-charges-for-jameis-winston-in-alleged-2012-rape/

Perhaps the confusion comes from the common practice of not naming victims of sexual assault accusations? Claiming it is uncommon to name the accused, however, is simply not true.

Why did Izzo and Dantonio’s picture appear in a graphic with Larry Nassar about this report?

A graphic appeared on screen in the studio background of the Outside the Lines when their report aired which depicted Izzo and Dantonio in the foreground and Nassar in the background. This apparently was controversial because it could have been interpreted as all three of these men committed the same crimes? I’m not sure of specifically why this sparked so much outrage, but it is worth addressing. ESPN used this graphic to advertise their report, a report which included all three of these names. To me, its intent appeared to be to entice anyone who saw the graphic to want to read the article. I can’t imagine how anyone would see the graphic and think that all three of these men were convicted of the same crime, and if someone did have that initial reaction, wouldn’t they be likely to read the article to verify that rather than just assume their initial reaction was correct? Perhaps that is assuming too much from the average ESPN viewer, but I really don’t think it is. If a reader is able to clarify why this graphic was controversial, please explain in the comments.

This article was purely to attack Izzo and Dantonio, right?

The report aimed more at a culture at Michigan State which bred ignorance to reports of sexual assault. Were Izzo and Dantonio included as pieces of that culture? Yes. Were they the only pieces? No, far from it. A great explanation of this report’s intentions:

 

ESPN is not credible, therefore they should be attacked for their reporting

This is such an odd strategy to deploy. There were a ton of accusations of sexual assault committed by Michigan State athletes that this report shared. In each case, there were no charges. However:

This is the problem. Michigan State needs to explain how they have handled accusations and provide evidence that they have done so properly. The burden is not on ESPN to prove anything; they shared as much information as they were able to obtain, despite repeated attempts by Michigan State to deny them information.

In September 2014, ESPN submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to MSU for incident reports involving 301 student-athletes. The university responded to the request with two sets of records but redacted the names of student-athletes listed as suspects, witnesses or victims, according to the Court of Appeals’ opinion

https://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/news/local/2015/08/19/court-sides-espn-public-records-dispute-msu/32013325/

Michigan State University lost a public records lawsuit against ESPN for the second time in two years.

https://amp.lansingstatejournal.com/amp/676752001

It’s not just Michigan State supporters who are attacking ESPN either. From the most recent report:

Outside the Lines reached out Thursday afternoon to multiple university officials and Washington for comment. None responded to calls, voicemails or emails. Outside the Lines also reached out to John Truscott, who was hired recently to lead the university’s crisis communications efforts. Truscott, in response to a series of questions about the alleged incident and a request to release the police report, wrote in an email that he was not in a position to know anything about the case; when asked whether he would provide someone at the university who could answer questions or provide a statement, he responded that “I’m just saying we don’t have any information at this time but will certainly look into it. We don’t have access to police reports, nor does the police department inform anyone of actions such as this.”

Yet here is how Truscott responds on Twitter to this very same report:

Interesting that the leader of MSU’s crisis communication efforts is “not in a position to know anything about the case,” and claims that “we don’t have any information at this time” yet has the gall to then attack the reporter’s ethics on Twitter. Also, refer back to the beginning of this post to debunk the “you can’t name the accused with no charges” stance.

Additional Information

ESPN has shared a lot of information so far, and likely will continue to do so going forward until Michigan State starts talking. Below are a few items I’ve found or been pointed to while doing some of my own research on this story (something I suggest that everyone who has been following this story should do. Rather than spending time attacking ESPN, use that time and energy to find the truth).

The beginning of the police’s interview with Adreian Payne. Note that this is definitely not the entire interview, as some clips that OTL aired are not included in this segment, and that this segment abruptly cuts off at the end of Payne’s initial recount of events and just as clarifying questions are beginning to be asked.

 

Ashley Dowser’s passing is shared on an MSU message board, as she was a known visitor of the board:

https://247sports.com/college/michigan-state/Board/93/Contents/Rest-In-Peace-Ashley-Dowser-AKA-Ash-LizPistonsgirl-UPDATED–15384178

And the horrific replies made to her for posing a harmless question on the board shortly before she passed away:

https://247sports.com/college/michigan-state/Board/93/Contents/Can-someone-help-13599076

Izzo mentions Travis Walton by name in reference to his hometown’s proximity to that of a Michigan player’s. Note that this game was played on January 13th, nearly 2 weeks before the OTL report was released. Quote begins at the 2:30 mark and reference to Walton at around 2:50 mark.

 

The East Lansing District Court Register of Actions database, where you can search by name for police reports. Type in Walton,Travis (no spaces) to find all referenced police reports in the OTL report. The assault and battery report is case number 10-0792. The littering charge that it was plead down to is case number 10-0792X. Walton was living in Izzo’s basement by January 28 at the latest and the A&B was reported on January 16. Note that his listed address changes from a home address in the A&B and littering reports to an apartment in case number 1058401 which was entered on June 23, 2010. This implies that Walton had definitely moved out of Izzo’s basement by June, but it is still unknown exactly when he had moved in and out.

A former MSU athletic director (who hired Tom Izzo in the 90’s) talks about the culture at MSU. From the article:

“The buck stops at the top in almost every enterprise,” said Baker, 75, who now lives in Boynton Beach, Florida. “It goes back to the language throughout Title IX — that people in charge either knew, or should have known.

“I think the arrogance of the culture set in.”

Also from this article:

Felice Duffy, a New Haven, Connecticut, attorney who has practiced Title IX law for 40 years, said the university’s vulnerability could be tied primarily to appearances the school did not adequately report students’ complaints.

Any employee the student believes might have responsibility to report — even a residence assistant or a janitor — which would include a medical staff, they are required to report to the Title IX coordinator if they have any reason to know of potential sexual conduct,” said Duffy, who also is a former women’s volleyball coach at Yale. “If they don’t do that, that is a problem.

It also sounds as if there was significant information from the investigation that wasn’t provided to some survivors — and that’s a real problem. That shows cover-up. That shows a lot of things.”

Unrelated, but a crazy story about a former MSU player discussing improper benefits in a taped phone call:

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-11-09/sports/9411160453_1_roosevelt-wagner-call-taped

This same player supposedly plotted to kill then football coach and current Board of Trustee member George Perles:

Wagner, a former Michigan State University offensive lineman who reportedly admitted to a plot to kill Spartan Coach George Perles, has answers for everybody who’s asking.

http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19941103&slug=1939885

This incredible foreshadowing of Hollis’ chances at replacing Jim Delany as Big Ten commissioner someday:

Most view two current league athletic directors—Northwestern’s Jim Phillips and Michigan State’s Mark Hollis—as potential heirs apparent. But a half-dozen years or so certainly is a long time frame for candidates to survive.

https://www.si.com/college-football/2016/07/26/jim-delany-big-ten-conference-football

A current Board of Trustee’s past suggests he’s not a great person to have on board when standing up for sexual assault victims:

https://www.wxyz.com/news/local-news/investigations/msu-trustee-vows-support-for-sex-abuse-victims-but-opposed-them-in-court

 

If you have any additional information to share which might help clarify the situation, please include it in the comments below.

Advertisements

The Turmoil at Michigan State

Disclaimer: The goal of this article is not to provide answers, but rather to ask more questions about what happened, who was involved, and how to move forward. This article will be periodically updated as new information is discovered. Additionally, the following assumptions will be made:

  • All identified victims’ stories are to be believed. The entire reason we are suddenly talking about so many events this week that occurred over a long period of time is because these stories were not initially believed. The first step towards finding a solution is acknowledging that a problem exists. If the reader feels this assumption is unfair, stop reading now.
  • The situation is fluid and non-binary. New information is arriving every day which may change the direction of this story completely. Nothing is 100% true or 100% false; memories fade, people stumble over their words, and mistakes occur. None of these scenarios void anything; we are living exclusively in the gray area. If the reader feels this assumption is unfair, stop reading now.
  • Sources with an unknown or non-existent track record are dismissed as not credible. When collecting information, always consider the source. Have they been reliable in the past? Have you heard of them before they provided the current information? If the answer to either of these questions is ‘no’ then they are not yet a credible source and their information will be dismissed. If the reader feels this assumption is unfair, stop reading now.

What Happened

On Friday January 26th, ESPN’s Outside the Lines released their findings on a 3-year-long investigative report which suggests that Michigan State University has a long history of withholding information related to sexual assaults on their campus. Additionally, Outside the Lines aired video segments of this report on Sportscenter on Friday the 26th and E:60 on Sunday the 28th, both on ESPN. These came on the heels of Larry Nassar’s sentencing, which suggests that these two stories are closely related. In many ways they are related: The nature and location of the offenses are quite similar, however the people involved do not overlap as much as it might first appear. MSU’s now former president Lou Anna Simon resigned on Wednesday, the same day as Nassar was sentenced. This was a direct result of her failure to oversee and stop his actions as early as should have been reasonably expected of someone in her position of power. Mark Hollis resigned on Friday, a few hours before the OTL report was made public. This initially suggested that he was resigning due to Nassar’s mishandling, since it was not yet publicly known what was in the OTL report. However, Hollis previously claimed that he had no knowledge of what Nassar had been doing, and even went as far as to say he was unsure if he had ever met Nassar. It seemed a little odd that he would have distanced himself so much from Nassar initially only to later resign as a result of those actions, but it was generally accepted that that was the case. Further, OTL referenced attempted communication with Hollis two days before his resignation in their report:

Hollis resigned Friday, two days after Outside the Lines asked MSU spokesman Jason Cody and the university’s sports information department for interviews with multiple MSU administrators and athletic officials, including Hollis, Izzo and Dantonio. Outside the Lines told Cody of the main findings of its reporting for this story. 

It can be reasonably inferred that Jason Cody relayed this information to Hollis prior to Friday, and therefore Hollis had knowledge when he resigned that the public did not yet have. This does not ensure he resigned because of the OTL report, but it certainly casts some doubt over whether he resigned purely because of Nassar. Only Hollis can provide a definitive answer to this, and as of this writing he has not provided that information publicly.

Who Was Involved

The report makes reference to the following individuals who were previously or are currently affiliated with Michigan State by name:

  • Mark Hollis, former athletic director
  • Mark Dantonio, current head football coach
  • Tom Izzo, current head basketball coach
  • Travis Walton, former basketball player and staff member
  • Adreian Payne, former basketball player
  • Keith Appling, former basketball player
  • Keith Mumphery, former football player

Several other former players are referenced, though not by name. From the report:

Since Dantonio’s tenure began in 2007, at least 16 MSU football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women, according to interviews and public records obtained by Outside the Lines.

Walton’s name would come up in another allegation involving a female MSU student. He and two basketball players — who played for him in the NCAA tournament — were named in a sexual assault report made by the woman and her parents to the athletic department, according to a university document obtained by Outside the Lines.

It is assumed that Mumphery is included in the “at least 16 MSU football players” count, and that Payne and Appling are not the same “two basketball players” which went unnamed. This brings the total to 5 basketball players (Walton, Appling, Payne, 2 unnamed) and at least 16 football players (Mumphery and at least 15 unnamed).

Neither Dantonio or Izzo committed any of the alleged assaults; their names are included because players on their teams were alleged to commit these assaults and it is unclear whether their players’ actions faced appropriate consequences.

Why it Matters

Aside from the obvious answer that it is important to seek justice for victims of these assaults, this particular report has become a lightning rod of conversation because of the coach’s names referenced in the report. The report implies that the coaches should have known what was happening with their players and did not take appropriate action to discipline their players and/or notify the appropriate authorities in all instances. The presumed fallout of admission of guilt would at the very least include a resignation of their roles as coaches, which is the biggest point of contention in all of this. The biggest question remaining is: Should the coaches be held as accountable for overseeing these incidents as former president Simon and former athletic director Hollis? In other words, should the coaches resign?

How should this be handled?

It depends who you ask. There is no consensus, only anecdotal observation of opinions. Based on my observations, there are 3 different opinions, and it is impossible to quantify which groups have the most and least support so I will not attempt a guess. The opinions are:

  • Group1: Both coaches should not be implicated (retain their positions)
  • Group2: Both coaches should be implicated (resign their positions)
  • Group3: We do not yet have enough information to make a valid decision

Dantonio and Izzo have each publicly stated that they have no intentions of resigning/retiring at this time, which puts each of them in Group1. The OTL investigative reporter’s and the interviewed former sexual assault counselor Lauren Allswede’s opinions appear to place them in Group2. The general public is disbursed throughout all 3 groups in an unknown distribution.

Since the assumption that the situation is fluid and non-binary has been made, I will go straight to the third opinion and seek to provide as much information as I can find. Please consider who the source is of each item before drawing any conclusions on the information provided. I have used my best judgment to not include any sources deemed to be not credible, but my judgment, like everyone’s, is not without flaws & biases.

The most important piece of information discovered so far is that Travis Walton lived in Tom Izzo’s basement the year after his eligibility as a player expired, while he was on Izzo’s staff. This from an article written last week:

http://www.limaohio.com/sports/281851/tom-izzos-coaching-dna-runs-deep-in-travis-walton

Note that this article was posted on January 23, 2018; 3 days before the OTL report was released. The byline of this article is as follows:

Bob Seggerson is a retired boys basketball coach and guidance counselor at Lima Central Catholic. Reach him at bseggerson@lcchs.edu

Excerpt:

Walton took a shot at playing at the next level, joining the Detroit Piston’s summer league team, but was not offered a contract. Faced with a decision about what to do next, it was Coach Izzo who stepped in and made Travis an offer he couldn’t refuse. “I was nine hours short of graduation,” Walton says. “Coach Izzo encouraged me to return to MSU, work with him as a student assistant coach, and earn my degree.”

Walton moved into Izzo’s basement and spent the year completing his degree, learning the art of coaching and staying in shape by working out with the team. It was an easy transition for Travis. “I was always a big film guy, so spending hours watching tape came easy for me,” Walton says. “I began to see the game through a coach’s eyes,” he added. “The same mistakes I made that drove coach Izzo nuts when I was playing for him, were driving me nuts now.”

After earning his degree, Walton spent three years chasing his dream of playing professional basketball, joining clubs in Switzerland and Germany and playing for three different teams in the NBA D league. But when coach Izzo connected him with an opportunity to join the coaching staff for the Utah Stampede in the NBA’s D league, Walton jumped at the opportunity.

Two articles from 2010 referencing Walton’s living arrangements at the time (the 2nd link is inactive so I had to pull it from an archived site):

http://blog.mlive.com/its-just-sports/2010/02/ager.html

https://web.archive.org/web/20100130222410/http://noise.typepad.com/hey_joe/2010/01/good-night-johnboy.html

 

For context of Izzo’s response below, excerpt from the OTL report:

The letter Allswede wrote says Walton was fired. In an interview with Outside the Lines, Allswede says little action was taken in regard to the players, and the report stayed within the athletic department, not to be investigated by anyone who handled student conduct or judicial affairs issues.

It is also worth noting that Izzo didn’t acknowledge Walton’s living arrangements in his response to questions about Walton.

Article on Dantonio/Izzo/Hollis relationship

Excerpts from this article:

Hollis was still a year away from being promoted to athletic director when his boss assigned him the task of finding Michigan State’s next football coach during the fall of 2006. 

Despite the fact that Hollis was not yet the athletic director, he was the one who hired Mark Dantonio.

From bowl destinations to NCAA Tournament sites to the occasional getaways to Mackinac Island they plan together, the three families spend a lot of time outside of East Lansing with one another. Their kids didn’t have much choice in becoming friends.

The oldest, Kristen Dantonio and T.R. Hollis, graduated from Michigan State a year ago. Katy Hollis and Raquel Izzo, both juniors, are roommates. They share a place a couple miles from where their dads lived together 30 years earlier. Lauren Dantonio, also a junior, is a frequent guest.

The relationships between Dantonio, Izzo, and Hollis extend significantly beyond their professional relationship. Their families are all very close. This should be considered for context as this story moves forward. Specifically, it demonstrates just how close Hollis is to both coaches. It is fair to assume that anything Hollis knows that is pertinent to either coaches is information that has been shared between them, and vice-versa. This is in contrast to Hollis’ description of his relationship with Nassar, whom he barely knew. The hypothesis drawn here is that Hollis resigned because of what he knew about Izzo/Dantonio, not because of what he knew about Nassar.

What’s Going on with Michigan Football?

Despite a relatively unremarkable season, Michigan football and in particular, Jim Harbaugh, tends to get a larger share of national coverage than any other program. This year the coverage has had a largely negative slant, despite a modest 8-3 record to date. This is a team that is hitting their pre-season expectation almost exactly (this site projected 8.874 wins, Bill Connelly’s S&P+ projected 8.9 wins, and the Bovada over/under was set at 9 wins), yet if you tuned into ESPN this week you’d think the program is in shambles. So, what’s really going on with Michigan football? Let’s take a look at the national sports media talking points, but with the intent of finding the truth rather than baiting for more readers/viewers with sensational proclamations.

  • Expectations have not been met

This is both the most common and the most puzzling take I have found, especially as it pertains to this year. Michigan is going to end up, at worst, one game below expectations this season. So technically, yes, they very well could fall just short of their preseason expectations. However, they are far from the only team who will pay out on the ‘under’ this year. Among the Power 5 teams (65 in all, including Notre Dame), 4 are exactly on their over/under total with only one (Northwestern) expected to move above it, 9 are 0.5 below with only 5 projected to move ahead, another 6 (including Michigan) are one game below, and 22 are too far below to get above their mark this year. This puts Michigan at or just below the median for Power 5 teams. Hardly a headline-worthy disappointment.

 

Team Conference  Wins Losses  Over/Under Difference
Mississippi State SEC            8 3 5.5 2.5
South Carolina SEC            8 3 5.5 2.5
Purdue B1G            5 6 2.5 2.5
Boston College ACC            6 5 4 2
Wisconsin B1G          11 0 9.5 1.5
Georgia SEC          10 1 8.5 1.5
TCU XII            9 2 7.5 1.5
Notre Dame Ind            9 2 7.5 1.5
Washington State P12            9 2 7.5 1.5
Michigan State B1G            8 3 6.5 1.5
Wake Forest ACC            7 4 5.5 1.5
Iowa State XII            7 4 5.5 1.5
Arizona P12            7 4 5.5 1.5
California P12            5 6 3.5 1.5
Miami FL ACC          10 0 9 1
Arizona State P12            6 5 5 1
Virginia ACC            6 5 5 1
Rutgers B1G            4 7 3 1
Alabama SEC          11 0 10.5 0.5
Oklahoma XII          10 1 9.5 0.5
Clemson ACC          10 1 9.5 0.5
USC P12          10 2 9.5 0.5
Auburn SEC            9 2 8.5 0.5
Maryland B1G            4 7 3.5 0.5
Northwestern B1G            8 3 8 0
Kentucky SEC            7 4 7 0
Texas A&M SEC            7 4 7 0
West Virginia XII            7 4 7 0
Penn State B1G            9 2 9.5 -0.5
Stanford P12            8 3 8.5 -0.5
North Carolina State ACC            7 4 7.5 -0.5
Missouri SEC            6 5 6.5 -0.5
Iowa B1G            6 5 6.5 -0.5
Duke ACC            5 6 5.5 -0.5
Ole Miss SEC            5 6 5.5 -0.5
Texas Tech XII            5 6 5.5 -0.5
Syracuse ACC            4 7 4.5 -0.5
Washington P12            9 2 10 -1
Oklahoma State XII            8 3 9 -1
LSU SEC            8 3 9 -1
Virginia Tech ACC            8 3 9 -1
Michigan B1G            8 3 9 -1
Indiana B1G            5 6 6 -1
Ohio State B1G            9 2 10.5 -1.5
Texas XII            6 5 7.5 -1.5
UCLA P12            5 6 6.5 -1.5
Utah P12            5 6 6.5 -1.5
Georgia Tech ACC            5 5 6.5 -1.5
Illinois B1G            2 9 3.5 -1.5
Oregon P12            6 5 8 -2
Kansas State XII            6 5 8 -2
Vanderbilt SEC            4 7 6 -2
Kansas XII            1 10 3 -2
Louisville ACC            7 4 9.5 -2.5
Colorado P12            5 6 7.5 -2.5
Minnesota B1G            5 6 7.5 -2.5
Nebraska B1G            4 7 7 -3
Arkansas SEC            4 7 7 -3
Pitt ACC            4 7 7 -3
Tennessee SEC            4 7 7.5 -3.5
Florida SEC            4 6 8 -4
North Carolina ACC            3 8 7 -4
Oregon State P12            1 10 5.5 -4.5
Florida State ACC            4 6 9.5 -5.5
Baylor XII            1 10 7.5 -6.5

 

Expanding the scope further to Harbaugh’s entire Michigan coaching career:

Year Over/Under Regular Season Wins
2015 7.5 9
2016 10 10
2017 9 8 (chance for 1 more)

 

Cumulatively, this puts Harbaugh’s regular seasons at worst a half game above expectations. In addition Michigan is 1-1 in the postseason under Harbaugh where the win was a blowout and the loss was by one point.

 

  • Jim Harbaugh is going to leave for X team after this season

Every year since Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor (and even in the days before he was hired at Michigan) there have been rumors that he will be coaching at somewhere besides Michigan the following season. His name was connected with the Raiders, Bears, Jets, and Dolphins in 2014 before choosing Michigan, the Colts in 2015, the Rams in 2016, the Colts again in 2017, and even UCLA was mentioned this week. He hasn’t left yet, and now there are rumors of a lifetime contract with Michigan which could be an attempt to finally dampen these annual rumors that he is leaving.

 

  • Harbaugh’s salary is too high

Harbaugh’s salary is often reported as being $9 million, which is not true. It is $7 million. I’m not sure why this matters enough to talk about, but for whatever reason it is a common talking point when Harbaugh’s name comes up. The $9 million comes from a 2016 life insurance policy which included two $2 million premium payments for the insurance in addition to the $5 million salary.

Coach salaries are misconstrued to be proportional to the number of wins a coach earns with the team, but that’s not really how they work. Their salary represents their market value, i.e. how much an entity is willing to pay them for their services. This is no different than any other profession. If a company wants to keep an employee that they deem valuable who is being pursued by a competitor, the current employer may offer a higher salary to ward off the competition and get their employee to stay. This does not mean that the employee will instantly perform better at their job. The higher salary is a reflection of the demand for their services; their perceived value.

 

  • Harbaugh’s antics are all for show

Everything Harbaugh does is with a purpose. That purpose is most commonly recruiting exposure and improving the student-athlete experience for his players. Things like trips to Florida and Rome with the entire team for spring practices are a way to reward his players which were (at the time) within the NCAA rules. These experiences are being provided instead of under the table payments to players, which is a less out-in-the-open but much more accommodated reward system.

Stories of unusual recruiting tactics surface from time-to-time, whether it be climbing trees with a recruit or spending the night at their house, and these are met with enthusiasm by the recruits but with derision by opposing fans and media. But if it works and is within the rules, why should it stop?

There was even ridicule of his actions on the sidelines, as if he is the only coach to ever express emotion during a game. He has since dialed it back in 2017 after the introduction of a rule created to detract his outbursts. He was penalized once in 2016 before this rule existed, but has not been penalized since.

  • “His best finish is 3rd in the division”

This one is technically true, but really needs some context as its aim is only to sound degrading. In 2015, Michigan finished ranked 12th in the final AP poll. Two teams in their division finished ranked 4th and 6th, respectively. In 2016, Michigan finished ranked 10th in the final AP poll. And again, two teams in the division finished ranked higher, this time 6th and 7th. The claim of finishing 3rd does not paint an accurate picture of the success, as 3rd out of 7 sounds much worse than 12th or 10th out of 128. This claim is intentionally misleading, and really only speaks to the strength of their division as no other division had 3 teams ranked as highly as the Big Ten East had in either 2015 or 2016.

  • Michigan’s roster is full of 4 and 5-star players

Michigan typically has highly ranked recruiting classes. The classes which could make up the 2017 roster (2013 through 2017) were ranked as follows:

Recruiting Class Class Rank # of commits
2017 5th 30
2016 8th 28
2015 37th 14
2014 20th 16
2013 4th 27

This breakdown implies that the youth on the team and any players who stuck around for a 5th year would make up the most talented portion of the roster. However, attrition played a huge role in shaping this roster, nearly all of which occurred in recruiting classes assembled prior to Harbaugh’s arrival. Here’s a list of all the players from one of the five classes above who left the program early for reasons other than entering the NFL Draft, and their last year of competition with Michigan:

Recruiting Class Player Star Rating Position Final year with program
2015 Brian Cole 4 ATH 2015
2015 Keith Washington 3 ATH 2016
2013 Ross Douglas 3 CB 2015
2013 Reon Dawson 3 CB 2015
2014 Michael Ferns 4 LB 2014
2013 Logan Tulley-Tillman 4 OL 2015
2013 Kyle Bosch 4 OL 2014
2013 Dan Samuelson 3 OL 2014
2015 Grant Newsome 4 OL 2016*
2013 Chris Fox 4 OL 2014
2013 David Dawson 4 OL 2016
2013 Shane Morris 4 QB 2016
2013 Derrick Green 5 RB 2015
2016 Devin Asiasi 4 TE 2016
2014 Freddy Canteen 4 WR 2015
2013 Csont’e York 3 WR 2013
2013 Da’Mario Jones 3 WR 2015
2016 Nate Johnson 3 WR 2016
2013 Jaron Dukes 3 WR 2015

*Newsome injured his leg early in the 2016 season and has not yet returned.

Note that there are 6 offensive linemen who left the program earlier than expected; 5 of which would be 5th year seniors and Newsome who would be the starting left tackle. Offensive line also happens to be the most heavily criticized position on Michigan’s roster, and this illustrates why there is a problem. Some attrition is to be expected in football, but losing 6 would-be veteran players from the same position group would crater any roster.

Also note that 10 players from the 2013 class left the program after 3 or fewer years. Again, some attrition is to be expected, but losing over a third of a class well before their eligibility runs out will eventually take a toll.

  • Harbaugh has never won a championship

This take is bizarre in two ways. First, it is very selective in what is deemed a championship, as Harbaugh led the University of San Diego to two conference championships (2005 & 2006) in his 3 years as their head coach, Stanford to an Orange Bowl championship in 2010, and the 49ers to an NFC championship in 2012. This implies that conference championships don’t count at the FCS level or in the NFL, but at the FBS level not only do they count but count for more than a postseason major bowl victory and final AP ranking of 4th. Secondly, it implies that a championship is the only criteria for a successful coach. He has been at Michigan for just under 3 seasons, and here is the list of teams with equal or higher winning percentages in that same time frame:

Rank Team Record Win Pct.
1 Alabama 39-2     0.9512
2 Clemson 38-3     0.9268
t3 Ohio State 32-5     0.8649
t3 Oklahoma 32-5     0.8649
5 Wisconsin 32-6     0.8421
6 Stanford 30-8     0.7895
t7 Michigan 28-9     0.7568
t7 Georgia 28-9     0.7568
t7 Oklahoma State 28-9     0.7568

 

  • He wears out his welcome

Harbaugh’s coaching trajectory has been as follows:

Team Title Years
Oakland Raiders QB coach 2002-2003
San Diego Toreros (FCS) Head coach 2004-2006
Stanford Cardinal Head coach 2007-2010
San Francisco 49ers Head coach 2011-2014
Michigan Wolverines Head coach 2015-present

Each move prior to landing at Michigan has been an obvious step-up, which tends to happen for coaches who perform well. The move from the 49ers to Michigan can be interpreted as a step down, but it cannot be interpreted as a demotion since he chose Michigan over numerous other NFL positions as shown in linked article earlier and it was not a firing but a mutual decision.

The national media has bungled their coverage on Harbaugh at Michigan since before he arrived in December 2014. They have gotten in wrong every year since. Why should anyone trust them to get it right today or going forward?

If you want the real story of what’s going on with Michigan football, the national media is not the place to go. Their job is to cover everything a little bit, it is inch-deep/mile-wide coverage. If you want in-depth coverage, you need to go to a local source, media that only covers this team. Or better yet, go straight to the source: Jim Harbaugh has a weekly podcast with his dad co-hosting. Amazon is chronicling the 2017 Michigan football season with a series set to air in January on Amazon Prime.

 

So, what’s left? Michigan is performing as closely to expectations as possible, Harbaugh is not leaving for the NFL, and Michigan’s program is actually in decent shape for the future with a young, talented roster. Pretty boring, right? But if this were the story that was being told, nobody would pay attention; nobody would care because it isn’t interesting.

If Michigan loses tomorrow, all of these points will be harped on again as if there is a serious problem to address. And if Michigan wins, they will be celebrated excessively and most of this will be forgotten. At least until their next loss.

The Safest Bet in Sports

I’ve promised that I would never place a 100% win probability on any game on this site, and that will always be true here. My goal is to determine the likelihood of outcomes and identify the safest picks. But what makes a pick safe? When it comes to sports, especially at a non-professional level as is the primary focus here, there really doesn’t appear to be a truly safe pick. But when a specific match-up features the same result, year after year, it becomes difficult to believe that a different outcome will occur in the next event.

This week, Michigan State plays at Michigan. This will be the 11th meeting in which Mark Dantonio is the Spartans head coach. In the previous 10 meetings between these two teams, against the spread, he is 10-0. His team covers when they’re favored and when they’re underdogs. Home or away; doesn’t matter. Here’s what I’m talking about:

MSU_Michigan_lines

2007_MSU_Michigan_openingline

Sources for graphics above: http://www.oddsshark.com/stats/dbresults/football/ncaaf

http://archive.scoresandodds.com/grid_20071103.html

I include the 2nd graphic to show that the line opened at Michigan -4.5, which MSU did cover. The first graphic shows that the line closed at Michigan -3.5, which MSU did not cover. At that point we’re really splitting hairs though; this streak is truly incredible.

The opening line for this game on October 7th is -12.5 in favor of Michigan. I’m not saying this is a guaranteed cover for MSU, but I mean…10 in a row? Something is going on here that the Vegas oddsmakers have failed to recognize for a decade. Will this year be any different? I wouldn’t bet on it.

College Football Preview 2017 Part 4: Projections

The first 3 parts of this preview series looked at coaches, rosters, and schedules. Now, we’ll put it all together and project how well each FBS team will perform this season.

The table below will be updated throughout the season to track up-to-date projections as well as compare against how accurate the pre-season projections turn out to be. In addition to team and conference affiliation, the table displays the following:

Preseason expected wins (this will remain unchanged throughout the season)

Over/under win totals, per Bovada

Current expected wins (will be updated weekly throughout the season)

Difference between current expected wins and over/under (updated weekly)

Favored games (number of games where team has greater than 65% win probability)

Favored toss-ups (between 50-65% win probability)

Underdog toss-ups (between 35-50% win probability)

Underdogs (less than 35% win probability)

Current probability that team will be undefeated in regular season (updated weekly).

To open table in a new window, click here

A few takeaways from this table:

  • It would take a mild upset somewhere along the way for each of Ohio State, Alabama, Washington, and South Florida to not go 12-0 in the regular season.
  • My numbers are very optimistic on UAB, Nevada, Hawaii, and UTEP; each with more than 2.5 expected wins above the Bovada over/under.
  • Conversely, my numbers are not high on Minnesota, Army, San Diego State, Louisiana Tech, and Miami OH; each with more than 2.5 expected wins below the Bovada over/under.
  • It is a bit surprising to see Boise State projected at only 6.17 and Stanford at 6.77 wins. Stanford has a pretty brutal schedule, but Boise’s is manageable. They’re one to keep an eye on.
  • UCLA at only 5.48 wins doesn’t bode well for Jim Mora coaching the Bruins in 2018. Notre Dame at 7.06 may not be enough for Brian Kelly, either.

Postseason Outlook

It really doesn’t make much sense to forecast postseason results before the season has begun because so many factors have yet to be realized (injuries, breakout players), but for ease of interpreting my full FBS projections here are the projected postseason championships based on the information available today.

Conference championship projections (projected winners in bold)

ACC Clemson vs Miami FL

Big Ten Ohio State vs Wisconsin

Big XII Oklahoma vs Texas

Pac12 Washington vs USC

SEC Alabama vs Georgia

American South Florida vs Memphis

CUSA Western Kentucky vs UTSA

MAC Ohio vs Central Michigan

Mountain West Hawaii vs Colorado State

Sun Belt Appalachian State (Sun Belt championship game beginning in 2018)

Playoff Projection (does this look familiar?)

Ohio State vs. Clemson

Alabama vs. Washington

Championship game: Ohio State vs Alabama

National Champion: Alabama

Despite a projected 13-0 season, South Florida’s schedule is far too weak to be considered for a playoff berth. It is thoroughly disappointing that my numbers project the same 4 teams as appeared in the 2016 College Football Playoff, but each of these 4 returns a very strong roster (the top 3 nationally plus Clemson at 8th nationally), their schedules are manageable (Alabama’s is the toughest at 16th but their toughest game is in week 1, while the other 3 schedules rank in the 50s), and they’ve all been on the biggest stage recently so they know what it takes to get there. At any rate, I’m confident some sort of chaos will derail at least one of these teams’ chances, but I don’t have a way to quantify that chaos yet.

This marks the end of my 2017 season preview series. Now we have actual college football games to watch this week! Win probabilities for Week 0 games will be posted prior to Saturday.

 

College Football Preview 2017 Part 3: Schedules

Scheduling matters. A team may have its strongest roster in years, but if it faces a brutal schedule it may not produce a record to reflect the strength of its roster. Conversely, a team may be over-valued due to a cakewalk of a schedule.

Biggest games of the year

The 2017 season features 3 games in which it is the hardest game of the year for both teams:

Alabama vs Florida State

Ohio State at Michigan

South Florida at Central Florida

 

These first two should not be too surprising, but when you look at South Florida’s schedule and realize their most difficult game is at Central Florida it’s no wonder they are a heavy favorite to be the G5 representative in a NY6 bowl.

The table below ranks the overall strength of schedule (regular season only) for all FBS teams. The SoS value represents the total number of standard deviations above or below a team’s complete schedule is relative to an “average” FBS schedule (i.e. cumulatively game-by-game, so if all games were 1 SD above the mean, the SoS value=12) . Additionally, the easiest game and 4 most difficult games with venues are listed next to each team to help illustrate why their schedule ranks in its position.

To open worksheet in a new window, click here

Up next: Putting it all together. Season projections will go up later this week, as we have actual college football games beginning on Saturday.

 

College Football Preview 2017 Part 2: Rosters

*Note: Most teams have not posted their Fall rosters yet, so this preview is looking at Spring 2017 rosters. Values will change slightly as Fall rosters become available; freshmen who didn’t enroll early, off-season attrition, and injuries/suspensions have not yet been factored into my roster values.

 

I evaluate rosters by looking at a few components: returning all-conference/all-American team members, recruiting rankings, and class standing for every player on every roster. After assigning each player a score, I add up the scores for the top-70 rated players on each roster to determine the overall roster value. I’ve settled on 70 instead of the 85 full-scholarship number because players beyond the 70th man on the roster are rarely seeing any game action. I also adjust for injuries/suspensions such that if a player in the top 70 will be out for a game, his player score will temporarily be set to zero and everyone beneath him moves up a slot, so the 71st player on the roster would then move into the top 70 and their score would count towards the roster value. Roster values are used in combination with coach win/expectation rate and game venue to compare teams and determine the likelihood of winning a given game.

 

Once again, Alabama and Ohio State are in a class by themselves when it comes to talent on the roster. Newcomers to FBS for 2017, UAB and Coastal Carolina, may be facing a bit of an acclimation period until they can assemble a more complete roster, though UAB compares rather favorably to their Conference USA brethren.

It’s a bit jarring to see Illinois and Syracuse so low on this list. South Florida should be a serious contender for a NY6 bowl in year 1 under Charlie Strong.

 

School

Top 70

Conference

Alabama

106.25

SEC

Ohio State

106.25

B1G

Washington

92

P12

Florida State

89.5

ACC

Clemson

86.25

ACC

LSU

83.25

SEC

Oklahoma

80.25

XII

Georgia

79.5

SEC

Texas

77.25

XII

Auburn

76.25

SEC

Penn State

74.5

B1G

USC

72.5

P12

Oregon

71

P12

TCU

71

XII

UCLA

69.25

P12

Michigan

67.75

B1G

Florida

66

SEC

Notre Dame

65.75

Ind

South Florida

64.25

Amer

Ole Miss

64

SEC

Oklahoma State

63.25

XII

Texas A&M

62.25

SEC

Arizona State

58.25

P12

Tennessee

57.25

SEC

Kansas State

54.75

XII

Miami FL

54.5

ACC

Nebraska

54.25

B1G

Washington State

53

P12

Arkansas State

52.5

SunBelt

Michigan State

52.5

B1G

Utah

52.5

P12

Western Kentucky

52.25

CUSA

Louisville

52.25

ACC

Toledo

52

MAC

Arkansas

51.25

SEC

Troy

50

SunBelt

Central Michigan

49.25

MAC

BYU

48

Ind

Stanford

48

P12

Colorado

47.75

P12

North Carolina State

47.25

ACC

New Mexico State

46.75

SunBelt

Northern Illinois

46.5

MAC

Kentucky

46.25

SEC

Colorado State

46.25

MtnW

Iowa State

46

XII

Appalachian State

46

SunBelt

Baylor

45.25

XII

Memphis

45

Amer

Pitt

45

ACC

Central Florida

44.75

Amer

Maryland

44.75

B1G

Northwestern

44.25

B1G

Western Michigan

44

MAC

Ohio

43.75

MAC

San Diego State

43.75

MtnW

Nevada

43.25

MtnW

Boise State

43.25

MtnW

Mississippi State

43

SEC

Akron

42.75

MAC

Houston

42.75

Amer

California

42.75

P12

North Carolina

42.75

ACC

South Carolina

42

SEC

Tulsa

41.5

Amer

Temple

40.5

Amer

Missouri

40.25

SEC

Arizona

40

P12

Hawaii

39.75

MtnW

Virginia

39.75

ACC

Virginia Tech

39.5

ACC

Iowa

39.5

B1G

Wisconsin

39.5

B1G

Middle Tennessee

39.25

CUSA

Indiana

38.75

B1G

Southern Miss

38

CUSA

Georgia State

37.25

SunBelt

Vanderbilt

37.25

SEC

San Jose State

37.25

MtnW

Bowling Green

36.75

MAC

Oregon State

36.5

P12

UAB

36.5

CUSA

UTSA

36.25

CUSA

North Texas

36

CUSA

Eastern Michigan

35.25

MAC

West Virginia

35

XII

Louisiana-Lafayette

34.75

SunBelt

Florida Atlantic

34.5

CUSA

UTEP

34.5

CUSA

New Mexico

34.25

MtnW

Rice

34.25

CUSA

Minnesota

33.75

B1G

Old Dominion

33.5

CUSA

Georgia Tech

33

ACC

Purdue

32.75

B1G

Rutgers

32.25

B1G

Kent State

32

MAC

Cincinnati

32

Amer

Duke

31.75

ACC

East Carolina

31.5

Amer

Buffalo

31.5

MAC

Boston College

31

ACC

Idaho

30.5

SunBelt

Navy

30.5

Amer

Wyoming

30.5

MtnW

Texas Tech

30.5

XII

SMU

30.25

Amer

Connecticut

29.75

Amer

Wake Forest

29.75

ACC

Florida International

28.75

CUSA

Louisiana Tech

28.75

CUSA

Marshall

28.5

CUSA

Coastal Carolina

28.5

SunBelt

UNLV

27.5

MtnW

Fresno State

27.25

MtnW

Utah State

27

MtnW

Miami OH

26.5

MAC

Massachusetts

26.25

MAC

Tulane

26.25

Amer

Kansas

26

XII

Charlotte

26

CUSA

Georgia Southern

25.25

SunBelt

Ball State

24.75

MAC

Air Force

24.75

MtnW

Syracuse

24.25

ACC

Illinois

23

B1G

South Alabama

22.5

SunBelt

Louisiana-Monroe

22

SunBelt

Army

21.5

Ind

Texas State

18

SunBelt

Short preview this week, but the next two weeks previewing schedules and season projections, respectively, will feature much more content.