Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Spring Cleaning in Ann Arbor

Spring housecleaning should come early this year in Ann Arbor. Michigan has real problems in the Athletic Department. That the football team has shown inconsistency is upsetting enough, but is inevitable with any program. Losing to Appalachian State though is unacceptable for Michigan. When it rains, it pours, and it is pouring on Michigan’s Athletic Department.

The Athletic Department allowed an ineligible freshman to play; that is unconscionable and unacceptable at any level, much less at the statute of Michigan. After the Ed Martin scandals involving the basketball team, Michigan, of all schools, should be extra zealous in maintaining integrity in the athletic department. “The punctilio of honor the most severe” is the standard for Michigan.

Minor violations of eligibility rules do not exist. Either a player is eligible or not. We all know that the penalty for playing an ineligible player is forfeiture of all games the athlete played in, even if it was just one “minor” play. Many of us have seen great teams forfeit seasons because of “minor” eligibility violations.

The forfeiture rule is draconian. It penalizes the player, the innocent player, the team – all the teammates- the alumni, the fans, and the institution because of the incompetence of the Athletic Department which is hurting many innocent players. Eligibility goes to the essence of the game. Only eligible players can play. Period!

A double fault lies with the Athletic Director. First, any department should have a compliance officer whose job is to ensure that all the rules, no matter how arcane or obtuse, are followed. Even if the NCAA and Big Ten Compliance Manuals are as unintelligible as the IRS Code, no excuse exists for playing an ineligible player. Whatever the eligibility rules, freshman eligibility, transfer eligibility, academic eligibility, these rules are more than mere technicalities. They go to the essence of fair competition.

Second, as a matter of integrity and reputation, Michigan should, and oh how this is painful, announce that it is voluntarily forfeiting the Penn State win because of an ineligible player. Now the case will drag on, resulting in tremendous pressure on the Big Ten to do something, but with Michigan’s name being trammeled in the process. The next few weeks will be an embarrassment for Michigan, and bring back memories of Ed Martin. The question is not what the Big Ten will do, but what Michigan should do.

When too many bad things happen, when there is an accumulation of bad tidings, when evil karma strikes, feng shui is unbalanced, bad vibes appear, a negative aura materializes, just a series of poor luck, then sometimes we simply need to throw out the old and start anew. An anomaly exists in the Wolverine force field. Blame it on global warming, or whatever. But end it.

The problem rests with the Athletic Department – not the Coach. The current AD was hired to restore economic success to the Michigan Athletic Department, which must be economically self-sustaining. He has succeeded. Facilities are being renovated and upgraded. The general budget of the University of Michigan rose 1.9 over the past year. The Athletic budget rose an astounding 17.6%.

It was too good to be true. Each home game results in revenue of roughly $5 million. Eight home games this year should bring an easy $40 million into the coffers of the Athletic Department. Booking Appalachian State to open the season only cost Michigan $400,000. The cost to Michigan’s reputation and image is priceless. More attention should have been focused on quality rather then economics.

Bo, Gary, and Lloyd have done a wonderful job over four decades of avoiding the recruiting, academic and improper financial assistance scandals of other schools and programs. Names like Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Clemson, Colorado, Florida, Georgia (basketball), Illinois, Kentucky (football and basketball), Minnesota (basketball), Mississippi, Ohio State (football and basketball), Oklahoma, Oregon, Southern Methodist, Washington, and possibly Florida State and USC come to mind. Most painful of all to me is that my other alma mater, the University of San Francisco, shut down its basketball program for two years. The program never recovered.

It’s time to cut the losses. Spring housecleaning in the athletic department should begin this fall starting with the Athletic Director.

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