Thursday, August 02, 2007

HSR Summer Round-up: Playing Harbaugh

It's summer time, and while the news has not stopped coming out of Ann Arbor, we haven't always been right on top of it. We here at HSR are OK with that, Brian at MGoBlog does it better than we ever could hope to, so we're not fretting that you, the Michigan fan, are not getting your recommended daily allowance.
However, there are some things that have come up which, while not worthy of a whole post, I wanted to discuss. So, with that in mind, I present CDB's Summer Round-up.
1). Michigan's new deal with adidas.

Honestly, more surprising than anything else, but as more details come out about it, including the "most favored school" clause and the $6.5 million signing bonus, the more I feel like Bill Martin's experience as a businessman served the athletic department well here. As a fan of uniforms, I also like the sense that adidas will not see Michigan as a laboratory for its sartorial experiments. Rather, I think adidas views Michigan as a brand and a tradition which, if respected, will bring more value to their brand. While leafing through the recent Eastbay catalog, I did note some questionable adidas gear, it was nowhere near as frequent (or as horrifying) as Nike's efforts. (The coach's shirt this season is, interesting, to say the least.) Only time will tell, but a return to the striped sleeves on the away football jerseys that were a mainstay of the 1980s and 1990s would be a nice start. (This is only personal preference, but there's something in me as a Michigan fan that loves that the winged helmet and block M on the pants are the only things the uniform needs to say "We are Michigan." Think about the "classic" uniforms in college football: Penn State, Notre Dame, USC, Alabama, and ugh yes, even Ohio State. They are all so richly steeped in tradition that I love, in a purely aesthetic sense, that what Mike Hart is wearing at Michigan Stadium in 2007 is not that radical a departure from what Tom Harmon wore at the Big House in 1940. When one of your foundations is tradition, you must step very carefully when you go to make changes. As Henry James said: " It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition."

2). Michigan and Notre Dame to renew their rivalry annually until 2031
I know that the feelings are mixed on this, especially as it looks like Michigan was not able to get Notre Dame to flip on the scheduling as so to get Michigan where it did not have the Irish and the Buckeyes at home (or on the road) in the same season (which, by the way, I would like to propose a radical and possible heretical solution to this, one much easier to fix. Flip tOhio State. Within the framework of Big Ten scheduling, it has to be easier to do, right? We played Minnesota at home in back to back seasons, no? Yes, you would need to give the Buckeyes two games in a row at the Horseshoe to make it happen, but if you're really that concerned about it, isn't it a small price to pay (I would feel bad for the two classes of Michigan students who would only get one tOSU game at the Big House, but again, it's a matter of what you're willing to give up to get what you want.)

Back to the Notre Dame issue though, I like it. I always liked that the Notre Dame game was sitting right there, waiting in September. Even if the first years I really followed Michigan football intently (1988-1990), the season was ruined by that game, I still like that there's an important and meaningful game every year in September. Similarly, last season's win at South Bend was one of the purest joys I have had as a Michigan fan this millennium, as it was a perfect storm of Michigan playing the underdog role and actually coming through for a change when faced with that. I also like that Michigan and Notre Dame are as big as brands come in college football and I genuinely believe their playing every year enhances and reinforces the reputations of the other.

2b). Michigan and future non-conference scheduling

In the wake of the somewhat surprising renewal, there has been much gnashing of teeth over the sense that, in the current college football climate, this pretty much ensures that Bill Martin will use Notre Dame as an excuse to not schedule a "name" out of conference opponent to go along with the two MACrifices we know will be on the table. But I feel this overlooks three very essential premises:

a). The "current climate" in college football is always evolving.
Was it not a few years ago that name teams were lining up to play each other because strength of schedule was such a major component in the BCS formula? Two years ago, we didn't even have the 12th game, and now we do. Just because Michigan and Notre Dame will be on either other's schedules until Joe Paterno is 102 years old doesn't mean that that long-term issue will always be a reflection of the short-term realities of the every changing climate of college football.

b). The role that potential Big Ten expansion will play
I'm not going to get into the speculation related to expansion, as it's pretty much been covered here, there, and everywhere during the past week, but building off point a, what if, for the sake of argument, the Big Ten does go to twelve teams, and what if, in that expansion, one of the new scheduling dictates is that there will be a ninth conference game as so to help scheduling. Would you rather have that ninth Big Ten game, or a "name" opponent?

c). Mr. Bill Martin
I get this sense that Mr. Martin knows the landscape a lot better than any of us do. He knows what the coaches want, what the donors want, what the season ticket holders want (and do not want) and what the television people want. He knows that the alumni diaspora means that Michigan will need to play "name" opponents in places like, say, the new Meadowlands Stadium when it opens 2010 to throw a bone to Michigan's large alumni contingent in the Northeast. (OK, it would likely be 2011 for that game at the earliest because Notre Dame is road game even years, but still. Michigan/Rutgers at the New Meadowlands Stadium (capacity 84,000 by the way.) He knows that Michigan has a growing alumni contingent in the Atlanta area and that the big visionary dream of Michigan/Georgia is something that would build brand equity for both schools. I am not saying that Mr. Martin deserves our blind faith, but I do feel that he has been pretty savvy with things lately and that he may still surprise us yet.

3). Jim Harbaugh vs. Michigan
I'm not going to rehash the Harbaugh kerfuffle for everyone, but I would like to make a couple of quick points. For those who feel that Mike Hart's comments went too far or were too harsh, cut him some slack. Conventional wisdom says that sports fans hate it when athletes have no personality, but will immediately jump all over any comment that seems the least bit controversial. Mike Hart is 21 years old, and while I am sure he has more experience than almost anyone reading this piece in dealing with the media, he stated what he thought and what he felt when asked a question, even if it was not precisely polished. More to the point, I applaud him for standing up for being a Michigan man.

While some will argue that being a Michigan man (and yes, in all of these cases, I mean "Michigan man" to embrace "Michigan woman" as well) means being classy at all times and turning the other cheek when others insult you, I will agree that, in most cases, thus is true. But Jim Harbaugh went after the quality of education that Michigan football players receive and the manner in which they are purportedly tossed aside by the Michigan community when their careers are over, and to me (and from the tone of Mike Hart's comments, to Mr. Hart as well), that is hitting below the belt.

To be a Michigan man is to be proud of the fact that you attended (or attended) one of the finest universities in the world and to be proud of the education that you received there. It is, in my experience (which is informed by the fact that I grew up in Michigan wanting to go to U of M from the fourth grade on) that Michigan is rarely is every a student's second choice. You choose Michigan, for whatever reason motivates you, but you choose it, you work your tail off to prepare for it, to be good enough for it, and then, if you're lucky, it chooses you. There will be those who call you arrogant, cocky, or worse, because you so love your school, and you know it is not jealousy, but rather, you wonder, as Nick Hornby did in Fever Pitch: "But I don't know, perhaps, it's something you can't understand unless you belong?" If Michigan men take the leaders and best line too seriously perhaps at times, it is because we know that we mean it, for it is what we are taught to aspire to be. (We rib Chad Henne for saying "Excellence is good....but perfection is better." but doesn't that quote in itself speak volumes about being a Michigan man; aiming for the best possible outcome at all times? Michigan is not unique in this regard, by any means, but the sensibility is right there.) We also know that to be a Michigan man is to be a part of something larger than one's self and something that does not turn its back on members of the family, something which the evidence, even if anecdotal, seems to support. But we also know that Michigan man does not need to knock down others to make himself look or feel better, especially when those knocks are entirely self-serving. And if that was the sense of what bothered true Michigan men, like Mike Hart and Jamie Morris and Coach Carr (he's a Michigan man even if he went to Northern), about Jim Harbaugh's comments, then I applaud each of them for standing up for being a true Michigan man.

(By the way, as a side note, until I heard Mike Hart's comments, I was not aware that Tom Brady has been seen in the Patriots' locker room wearing his Michigan varsity jacket. If so, that's pretty awesome in its own demented way. [Tom Brady still has one of my favorite post-Michigan quotes from a Wolverine. In 2004, shortly after then-New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis was hired by Notre Dame, a reporter asked him in the locker room as to whether he thought Notre Dame fans were excited to see the Patriots offense perform and Brady replied: "I don't care about Notre Dame fans. I only care about Michigan fans." But I digress.])

So that's pretty much it. We're less than a month away from kickoff, and you know it's going to be Hot, Hot, Hot.
--CDB

1 comment:

Andrew said...

never heard that brady quote before - AWESOME!

also, commented as such elsewhere (MNB? MSC? I forget), but definitely have to give Hart some latitude. he's a young, passionate guy bound to say some silly things (although i tend to agree with him, if in spirit); i'm sure Carr has probably had a talk with him about discretion by now. but there really is no excuse for harbaugh. he is quickly rubbing everyone (cal, usc, Michigan contingents, et al) the wrong way and wholly unapologetic, or at least completely oblivious. i would be loathe to see the day harbaugh set foot back on campus without a sincere apology and acknowledgement of his boneheaded jackassery.