Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The No-Win Situation That is Gopher Football

I used to coach town-team "traveling basketball" and AAU basketball, both for boys and girls.  We would have long practices before the season started and try to develop the kids' skills and stamina and knowledge of the game.  Then we'd think "OK -- team is ready to play."

But sometimes you would show up for your first tournament and the other team would just, literally, beat the living hell out of you.  Hold, push, elbow, grab - every possible illegal move.  And the refs would call nothing.  So once you complained for a quarter or so and got no help, you were left with two options:  1) lose; or 2) fight back and cheat also.  As a coach, I always took option 2.  I remember one game where at halftime I noted that we could either be the hammer or the nail, but I would think it would be better to be the hammer.  One girl went out and committed two very hard fouls after halftime and looked over at the bench.  We shared a smile.

The point is, we would all like the world to be wonderful.  It would be great if people let you in when you are trying to merge in traffic.  It would be great if your boss were reasonable.  And it would be great if your college basketball team featured 12 athletes who were all 4.0 scholars and who stayed all 4 years and led the team to 4 national championships.  The world, unfortunately, does not work like that.

You generally have 5-10 teams in either college football or college basketball who are truly contenders to win it all based upon coach or pedigree.  Football -- Alabama, USC, Ohio State, Michigan, Florida State.  Basketball -- Duke, Kentucky, UCLA, Kansas, UConn

Now, this is not to say that these teams cannot fuck it up -- I mean, all of these teams have suffered at least brief bumps in the road (cough, UNC under Matt Doherty) but they have something to sell -- the nameplate.  "We are _____ and we have won a BUNCH of titles!  Now, do you want to come play here and continue that tradition, or do you want to go to some school and hope to get a few votes for top 25?"

And there have been very, very serious efforts at re-writing the script and making new great teams.  I mean HUGE amounts of booster money have been spent at Oregon and Oklahoma State.  Spurrier made Florida great for a while.  UNLV rose to prominence.  Wisconsin is trying to become a constant Top 10 force.  Tony Bennett has become a regular season force in Virginia and hopes to turn that into tourney success.   

But let's face it.  For most college football teams and college basketball teams, there are two real options -- accept your lot in life, or cheat a lot.  If you are NC State or Clemson in basketball, you generally will be 5th-8th in the ACC depnding upon how hard the other teams fighting for those spots are cheating.  If you are BC or Syracuse in football after 1986, you are going to be fooling around with .500, maybe 2 games over, maybe two games under.  You may get lucky and go 9-4.  You may get unlucky and go 4-8.

Faced with this option, a lot of teams that want to win cheat.  And if they don't cheat, they look the other way, and I mean 180 degrees the other way.  Do you remember when Peyton Manning was kicked out of Tennessee for tea bagging the school employee?  Or when Tennessee investigated allegations that its employees wrote student papers and found itself guilty and shut down the program?  Or when UNC agreed not to play in last year's NCAA tourney because of rampant academic fraud in its men's basketball program?  Or when Oklahoma State sanctioned itself when finding out that Dexter Manley could not read?  Remember those profiles in courage?  No?  That is because THEY DID NOT HAPPEN.  Remember Cam Newton and Jameis Winston's stated scandals and how they resulted in forfeiture of all games they ever played in?  No?  Again -- schools looked into it - found they did nothing wrong.

The coaches and the administrations of these schools determined that (like me coaching basketball) they were not going to discourage conduct occurring outside of the rules if that it what it took to win games.   UNC's ridiculous claim that its WOMEN'S basketball program was primarily to blame for the decades of academic cheating is perhaps the low point of all legal or factual arguments ever made.  Yet it has stymied the NCAA for what appears to be at least 2 years!!!  UNC set up and operated an academic fraud system for 20+ years that was designed to help a women's team who was almost never any good?  Talk about a desire to comply with Title IX!!  How noble. 

Against this background, we have the state of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota.  I grew up in Western NY.  I moved to Minnesota in 1989.  Here is my observation about Minnesota sports fans -- there really aren't very many.  If you live in the Eastern time zone, you are taught as a kid that sports are everything, you live and die for them and that is your identity.  "I am a ________ fan."  Acceptable responses: "Fuck you, I am a _________ fan" and "So I am, let's be friends."  I would say of the guys I grew up with that 90% were avid sports fans.  I gave a speech in Philly 15 years ago where I started with "and I am an alum of Duke - with our three national titles" huge applause line (with a few muttered "fuck yous" included).  If I gave that same speeech in Minnesota, people in the audience would wonder why I would ever mention Duke basketball. 

In my years in Minnesota, I would say that I have met maybe 100 people who are truly avid sports fans.  When my son played Little League baseball (or whatever they call it here), the dads would gather around at functions.  Here were the primary topics:  1) drinking, 2) the cabin, 3) boating, 4) fishing, 5) hockey.  So, I figured, well, at least I am pretty up (at the time) on the NHL - let's discuss that.  Nope, it was YOUTH hockey they were discussing!  I was at a baseball party and literally no one was talking baseball, football or basketball. 

And these are the dads who care enough about sports to have their sons in sports.  Now imagine the level of sports fandom from moms or from dads whose kids were not in sports.  This explains why Minnesota for many, many years struggled to get a new stadium for sports while places like Cleveland and Cincicnnati and Pittsburgh were building new stadiums after voter referenda.  In those cities, people love sports.  In Minnesota, most people can take or leave sports.  This is an attitude shared, from what I can tell, only in cities like L.A. and Seattle.  Minnesota lost its hockey team to DALLAS!!  The only sport in which Minnesotans have a modicum of interest (at least on the youth level) was lost because Minnesotans would not spend money to renovate Target Center to house both the Wolves and North Stars.  The water freezes in Dallas roughly 10 days a year.  They stole our team.  The Twins in 2001-02 were about to be contracted back into the MLB.  No one really cared all that much.  The Twins' threats to simply take money to dissolve got them a new stadium in.......2010.

This brings us to the Gophers.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers play football against high Division I competition.  I have talked to people with Division I connections.  The player stories they tell are eye opening even for a 52 year old guy who has seen a lot.  If you enjoy watching high D-1 sports, do not ever have an honest conversation with someone who has played or been around high D-1 sports.  Suffice to say, the Gophers play against teams who cheat in recruiting, don't send their kids to class, pay players, hire hookers for their players, cheat on player drug tests, etc., etc.  That is their competition.   (side note on drug testing -- I asked my source, "well if they don't take their tests, why do they sometimes get caught?"  the answer was that if the coaches were angry enough with you, they'd make you take your own test, knowing you would fail). 

People in Minnesota, for whatever reason, feel that the Gophers should be really good at football.  Why?  That is a great question.  I wish I knew.  The Gophers have not been to the Rose Bowl in 50 years.  The Gophers have one 10-win season....ever.  They have never, for example, been 14-0, 13-0, 13-1, 12-2, 12-1. 11-3, 11-2.    So why would anyone expect that level of play?  I mean, you can HOPE for that level of play, and I can HOPE that tomorrow People Magazine will tell me that if I drop 25 pounds I will take over for The Rock on its "Sexiest Man Alive" cover.  But is that really a reasonable expectation?  I have never won a beauty contest or even been thought of as particularly handsome.  Would it be nice?  Sure.  Should my wife chide me if I fail to achieve the goal?  No.

The Gophers play in a metro area of around 3 million people.  They have a nice 60,000 stadium.  Big Ten teams from large metro areas -- Ohio State and Michigan -- have 110,000 seat stadiums.  Wisconsin (80,000+) and Iowa (70,000+) have stadiums bigger than Minnesota's.  They play in the huge cities of Madison and Iowa City.  There is nothing about Minnesota's "facilities" that would make you think that they are supposed to be awesome at football.

But the biggest impediment to success in Gopher football is that the University feels a great need to self-report and "self-find-itself-guilty."  I mean, I kid you not, after the Gophers self-guilted themselves on the "we write papers for players" issue, Tennessee employees came out and said "oh yeah, we do that too, always have".  Tennessee investigated -- "nope, never happened, we are innocent." 

Look at the latest Gophers "scandal."  If you read the 80-page report, multiple Gophers football players had sex with a 21-22 year old woman.  They said it was consensual, she said it was not.  Her story is littered with credibility issues.  (There are many - she said she was drunk, though not overly drunk and had stopped drinking hours before....or maybe dehydrated.....she asked her first rapist what had happened to her, then later claimed to the University a very specific knowledge of the events that occurred....the report itself finds that the first alleged rapist did not, in fact, rape her).

Add in a specific misidentification of one player.  The University actually found that this error (a pretty big error -- "he did it....OK, I guess not....") INCREASED the victim's credibility: 

"RS misidentification of A10 demonstrates that RS memory of the events in the apartment may be faulty at times However, RS report about her misidentification also demonstrates her willingness to admit that she initially remembered something incorrectly...."   

Prosecutors (whose job it is to investigate and charge crimes) felt the story wasn't very compelling.  Her civil lawyer settled her lawsuit. 

And let me address another thing about the findings of the EOAA Report.  A great deal has been made of the fact that the Report had to use the "predonderance of the evidence" standard so the players had to lose.  This argument is wrong.  If Mr. X has 35 people come and testify that something happened, and Mr. Z has 1 person come and testified that it did not happen, and Mr. Z also has a video showing that one thing the 35 witnesses said happened pretty clearly did not happen, Mr. Z is very likely to win on the "preponderance of the evidence" standard, properly applied.  What happened here, in my opinion, is that the EOAA applied what I would call a "summary judgment" standard.  Under a summary judgment standard, if we believe everything that the claimant says and nothing that the defendants say, could claimant win?  I mean, that is what basically happened.  Every error by defendants (the report notes that one defendant, when quizzed, got the order of sex wrong, thus indicating that he was probably lying) is used against them and every positive inference is made in favor of the claimant (she misidentified one guy entirely, but that shows she is willing to admit her errors). 

So this is the scandal.  Several of these players were defendants in a civil suit.  The civil suit sought to enjoin the players from being IN THE STADIUM while this woman worked at games because she was afraid of them.  Now imagine that a lawsuit of this type had been filed in Tuscaloosa or Columbus.  "Judge, I need you to sit out the two starting corners for the Tide/Buckeyes because a woman fears that they may assault her at the game....."  Imagine that idea.  Imagine that.  Now imagine how quickly that request for extraordinary judicial relief gets denied.  This Minnesota court motion was granted - the two starting corners for the Gophers were, without ever receiving an evidentiary hearing, enjoined from entering the stadium on the off chance that they might, presumably while in uniform and on the field, assault this woman. 

After allowing these same players to play most of the season, Eric Kaler and Mark Coyle eventually suspend all 10 players involved and then lie to the players and tell them Tracy Claeys (their coach) was responsible for the suspensions. 

Now, what would have been the appropriate thing to do? 

1) Read the report -- geez guys, you guys looks like sexual predators out to have sex with any vulnerable woman you can find, do you have a response? 
2) Yes, we have filed an appeal and we think we will win because of ____________.
3) OK, well, you are entitled to privacy and due process, so we are going to let you play the Holiday Bowl, but if you lose your appeal you are done.

People who are convicted of crimes often remain out of jail pending appeal!  Corporations who are found guilty of fraud and have a $40,000,000 judgment entered against them don't have to pay if they file a bond.  What was the requirement that the University suspend these guys?  None.  Again, the administration knew what these guys were accused of for MONTHS and allowed them to play football.  But they suddenly suspend the players, lie about who did the suspending, and then face a player boycott and a coach backlash.

This would have never happened at any traidtionally top 20 program.  I mean, my lord, what was the punishment for Michael Floyd's DUI at Notre Dame?  Was he ever tossed out of school?  Suspended for a couple games?  Nope.  He lost his team captain status.  I am sure opposing coaches feared him less without the C.

Here is what would have happened at a top 20 program:

1) Report to the police - police take a report, advise no charges.  Prosecutors do not charge.
2) Civil suit filed.  Motion for restraining order denied. 
3) Booster approaches claimant - provides large amount of money through scholarship and free housing and duffel bags of cash.
4) EOAA office determines that they will agree with prosecutors and find no violation.  Claimant deemed to be not credible.

By contrast, Minnesota just HAS to constantly self-report and self-find-itself guilty. Thus the ultimate result is that it loses many players and fires a winning coach whose team loves him and who has a record of academic success with his players.  The guy went 9-4 at Minnesota, won a bowl game and has a LOT of good players on defense who will return in 2017.  That is the upside of the coach.  The downside?  When given the opportunity to suck Eric Kaler's dick, he chose not to do so.

The Minnesota press and Minnesota citizens both continue to search for the elusive set of 60 football scholar-athletes who will bring the team to a deserved 14-0 back-to-back title seasons; players who spend their Friday and Saturday evenings helping old women across the street and freeing scared cats from trees.   These 60 saints in football garb will want to attend Minnesota because Minnesota (despite no Rose Bowls in 50 years) deserves the best players in America.  I am not certain that this will occur, but I guess hope springs eternal.

A Final Note on Mark Coyle:
This is a guy who spent one year at Syracuse as AD under Jim Boeheim, oops, sorry, I meant "with" Jim Boeheim.  I grew up 80 miles from Syracuse.  I have met Syracuse residents and Syracuse cops.  I have heard their stories.  Suffice to say, if Mark Coyle spent a year at Syracuse, he knows what a northern school's program does to "compete at the highest level".  I would suggest that even in his brief tenure at the 'Cuse that Coyle saw how it is done.  He didn't want to do it, or be the AD while it was being done.  So what did he do?  He came to Minnesota.  For his travles, he got a football team accused of gang rape.  Whether rightfully or wrongfully accused, you have to figure that Coyle thought "I thought I left this behind." So when he got the choice to keep or fire Tracy Claeys, he fired him. 

Coyle will now take the position that he will hire a coach who is squeaky clean and who will uphold the Minnesota ideal (he wants a coach who "knows what Minnesota is") of all guys who get 4.0s and hang out in the Christian Science Reading Room in their spare time.    Good luck.  I think Gerry Faust is still alive.

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