Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fire Brady Hoke

I started this post Saturday night.

Indignant about the University of Michigan football team's desultory performance against Minnesota, the post started with the premise that big time college sports ought to be treated as any other revenue producing enterprise and that when it is clear that the CEO is not and never was up to the task of leading his team, he or she needs to go.

But over the last two days, there has emerged an eminently more compelling reason that Michigan should fire Brady Hoke. Now.

Because Hoke has demonstrated an utter disregard for his players' health. And that, as a coach, is inexcusable.

While watching the Minnesota game and texting with E, a more loyal Maize and Blue fan than even me, I promised him that I would turn the channel if Hoke insisted on playing quarterback Shane Morris when it was clear that he was ineffective. Then Morris hurt his leg, was clearly not at full capacity, and Hoke put him back in. That was it for me.

But what I missed was Hoke's inexplicable handling of Morris and his well-being after that point. Shortly after I stopped watching, Morris received a vicious helmet-to-helmet blow from a Minnesota defender. He was clearly wobbly, needed help from a lineman to stand, and players were calling for the training staff or telling Morris to get down and stay down so that he could receive medical attention.

Morris stayed in the game despite all the obvious signs of a concussion. Then he came out, then he went back in again when his replacement (the former starter Devin Gardner) lost his helmet and had to be removed for a play by NCAA rule. So one player loses his helmet and Hoke's answer is to put back in the player whose helmet just did him no good.

Morris being held by lineman Ben Braden while tight end
Khalid Hill urges him to take a knee. (photo from heavy.com)

I have been a loyal Michigan fan since I was old enough to walk. I saw Ron Johnson set a school record in 1968 when he ran for 347 yards against Wisconsin in a snow storm. I've been back to Ann Arbor many times since, always rooting for the Maize and Blue (except once, when they played by alma mater Wake Forest and even then I knew that pulling for the Deacs was akin to tilting at windmills, and I was okay with that).

But this. This is the last straw. I will still pull for the players. I will still wear my Michigan shirt, still sing Hail to The Victors. But I will not waste one more breath defending Hoke. Or even countenancing his continued presence at the school.

I've used this blog as a bully pulpit to disparage coaches and schools that are Michigan's rivals. But while I still dislike (even loathe) Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer and Brian Kelly, I would not accuse any of them of intentionally putting a player in harm's way. But today I can, and have to, make just such an allegation against Michigan's coach.

Hoke's disingenuous explanations for why Morris was left in the game, his insistence that Morris may not play next week not because of a concussion but because of his leg are frankly sickening. Hoke insists that the decision was not his to make to leave Morris in the game but Morris' and the medical staff's. And that he didn't see Morris wobbling on the field. 

What the Hell was he looking at? What was he paying attention to? And, yes, it was your decision coach, or, more importantly, your responsibility to insure your players' health. That's not just my opinion. It's the NCAA's:
Recognition and diagnosis of concussion: All student-athletes who are experiencing signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with a sport-related concussion, at rest or with exertion, must be removed from practice or competition and referred to an athletic trainer or team physician with experience in concussion management. 
There is no provision for the player insisting that he's capable of staying in, or returning to, the game. For the simple reason that that's exactly what is expected of a "team player." It's the coach's responsibility to recognize the situation, get the player out of the game, and then depend on competent medical staff to evaluate the player.

The buck stops with you Brady. But it shouldn't any more. Not for a single minute. Certainly not for another game.

If you need a better written, and more passionate (and profane) analysis of why Hoke should be fired, I recommend this blog post to you. And this post has a detailed timeline of the events after the hit and why Hoke's demurer of responsibility and knowledge is, simply, unbelievable.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sports Hypocrisy All Our Own Part II

No, not a post about the NFL and its various hypocrisies (both Jon Stewart and Trey Parker and Matt Stone have already covered those topics with much more wit and biting sarcasm than I could muster).

Rather a follow-up to my post from February this year about the NCAA and its legal struggles. Thanks to the contributions of Alex Greenberg, it was transformed into what at first glance may appear to be an honest-to-goodness legal article. But cites to Deadspin and ESPN rather than to case law or a scholarly article hopefully rescue it from complete law review nerddom.

Here's a link to the article:


The NCAA's $1.7 Million Man (photo from usatoday.com)

And, yes, it appears from this piece run by USA Today last April that Emmert has more than a little in common with Sepp Blatter and Roger Goodell

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Trying to Keep College Soccer Relevant

While forces outside of the NCAA's control are compelling it to change the way that it administers its revenue-churning men's football and basketball competitions, at least one group is attempting to address issues from within. And in a "non-revenue" sport at that.

Led by WVU's Athletic Director, Oliver Luck (a former quarterback at the school and, perhaps more importantly for this subject, the former General Manager of MLS's Houston Dynamo) a group of college coaches, athletic directors, and administrators are trying to convince the NCAA and MLS that college soccer should move to all-season sport status, with the College Cup to take place in June, not November as it currently does.

The proposed changes would also allow more training time to college soccer teams and are aimed at improving training techniques and game preparation. Such a move would, hopefully, raise the level of play to that of lower division soccer in other countries. 

If the proposal is adopted, it would inject new life into college soccer in the U.S., which has been marginalized by MLS and its youth teams. Whether that diminution is a bad thing or not depends on who you ask. And when you ask them.

U.S. men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been particularly vocal about the need for the top-level U.S. players to play in Europe and its young national team players to train year-round with the best teams in the best training facilities, whether they be in Europe or with an MLS youth team in the States.

It's undeniable that the very best players in the World have, for generations, honed their craft in just that way - by playing constantly, with the highest level of coaching, against the best opponents. That is in fact how Klinsmann rose from an apprenticeship at his family's bakery to his fame as a World Cup hero and as feared striker for a number of prominent clubs in Europe.

But the problem with the European model is that for every Klinsmann or Messi or Rooney that it produces there are hundreds of faceless youngsters who became adults with no vocational ambitions to fulfill, tossed to the side because they're not quite big enough or fast enough. While some of the best youth programs offer education as well as soccer as a part of the curriculum, the primary reason that players are enrolled is to learn how to play soccer, not learn in the classroom.

Klinsmann, too, seems somewhat equivocal with regard to how he views American soccer, at both the developmental and professional levels. While he insists that the best players should play in Europe against the best of the world, he made Clint Dempsey the national team captain at the World Cup despite Dempsey's return to MLS last season. And, least we forget, Dempsey came of age as a player not after training in the depths of some professional team's youth ranks, but at Furman University.

Dempsey during his playing days at Furman,
(photo from furman.edu)

Perhaps most interestingly, among the players named to the U.S. squad for the recent friendly against the Czech Republic was Jordan Morris, the first collegiate player to appear on the roster since 1999. Morris apparently impressed Klinsmann while the national team trained at Stanford, where Morris is a sophomore, in scrimmages between the school's team and the U.S. men. While Morris was a player for the Seattle Sounders' youth team, he chose education over professional soccer in signing with Stanford instead of the Sounders.

Morris did not appear in the match, which the U.S. won 1-0 on an Alejandro Bedoya goal. But Morris' inclusion in the squad is hard to read as anything other than an indication that Klinsmann both recognizes his talent as a 19 year-old and validates the developmental training that he received in the Sounders' youth organization and at Stanford.

There are undoubtedly serious problems with the way the NCAA administers its revenue sports. Luck's proposal, however, presents an opportunity to the organization and its member institutions to make strides toward providing education for both sports and for life after sports, with the latter undoubtedly being the vocational destination for a vast majority of their players. 

The Soccer America article linked above suggests that Luck's proposal may well fail because, as a non-revenue sport, soccer simply isn't on the radar of may college athletic directors and presidents. They may either not want to set a precedent for other sports to seek a similar change, or simply not care enough about the development of college soccer to devote time to consideration of a change in how and when it is played.

Such a reaction (or non-reaction as the case may be) will simply be further confirmation of what the true "value" of college athletics to those that administer them is. And it would once again expose the NCAA's insistence to refer to those that play college sports as "student-athletes" for the sham that it is increasingly perceived to be.