Rantings of an avowed Michigan homer.

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Sorry to all 5 of you who probably actually read this, but I was out of the country for a while. I'm back now, and finally somewhat back in the loop on Michigan athletics.

For those of you who get The Wolverine, this month's issue is particularly interesting. There's a very in-depth article with Bill Martin that certainly raised a few eyebrows for me.

There aren't too many large-scale, stunning revelations. It's more of the little things he just kind of tags onto things that cause me to be completely dumbfounded. Here's some excerpts:

I was in [Crisler] for a basketball game and football had some recruits in there... the parents of this kid came up to me and said 'Are you the athletic director?...We want to have our picture taken with you."... What they told me made me feel so great. 'We toured that academic center. If you built that and you're putting that level of resources to academics, we want our son here at Michigan.' I never thought of the academic center as a recruiting tool, but it clearly is.

Um... Huh? Who whudda thunk that a building covered in flat screen televisions and couches specifically made to fit Gabe Watson's ass (yes, they actually used Gabe Watson to gauge how big to make the chairs), filled with tutors and computers and every resource idiots like Brent Petway need to maintain a 1.9 GPA would be a recruiting tool. I've always had a sinking feeling that Bill Martin has zero clue when it comes to the athletics side of being AD, and this only helps to confirm it.

THE WOLVERINE: Do you feel that the basketball program and Tommy Amaker are being held back in any ways by facilities?

BILL MARTIN: I don't believe that's the case. I haven't heard from our basketball staff or any outside sources that so-and-so didn't come to Michigan because of the facility. I'm certain for some kids, that's the case. If they're interested in facilities, then they should go elsewhere. That's my response to it. If softball players were interested in facilities, they wouldn't come to Michigan, would they? First and foremost, we look to see if these kids are coming to Michigan for an education or not. Tommy has been very understanding. We've done those improvements that have been necessary for the team on a day-in, day-out basis- the locker room, the weight room.

Wow. 'If you want a nice, modern facility to play in, don't come here.' Way to keep up with the curve, Bill. Look at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. Or Ohio State's brand-spanking-new professional-grade basketball arena. Then look at Crisler- dreary and dark. A concourse without above-head lighting. Bathrooms that are antique at best. Seats that for the most part are original the building... Yeah, that may not be #1 priority for recruits from a playing standpoint, but remember- a recruit's first experience at Crisler Arena isn't going to be on the court. It's going to be in the stands and in the concourses. They go up the stairs and see dusty pictures of the 1969 Big Ten championship football team and overhead photographs of Michigan Stadium taken in the 1950's half-faded in the dark recesses of the upper walls of the concourse, they're going to wonder just what they're getting themselves into.

Meanwhile, millions and millions and millions of dollars are dumped into the football stadium each and every offseason- now more than ever. Why not Crisler? Bill Martin is saying all the right things- 'We want to do it.' OK, then do it. Enough of the talk. It's been this way for years. Every year Crisler's problems are woefully obvious, and every year they're ignored.

I also don't get Martin's reference to softball players. The response to facilities is clearly going to be different in revenue sports vs. non-revenue sports. I don't know this for sure, but I'd venture a guess that there isn't a whole lot of difference between softball facilities across the country. Same for most other non-revenues. But in football, basketball, hockey, you've got schools like Oregon in football with walls covered in flat-screen televisions in their lockerrooms. In hockey, you've got The Ralph at North Dakota with marble floors and a full-sized hockey rink practice facility attached to it. For revenue sports, facilities mean something for recruits. Remember, in these sports, athletes are coming to colleges and universities looking at it as a spring-board to the pros. This is a million-dollar decision for them. They want the bells and whistles. Is this a bad thing? I think it's certainly telling of the current atmosphere of college athletics, and a negative in the long run, but Michigan has to be able to keep up with the trends.

Elsewhere in the magazine, Martin answers some questions regarding football scheduling that show a bit of insight into the thinking of AD's across the conference:
'My position on the 12th game was that was driven in our conference by revenue. We really didn't support it, but everybody else did. It's permissible, but not required... Lloyd made the point that if we don't play it, and we go 11-0, and two other teams go 12-0 or 13-0, who is going to the national championship?...'

Martin also has other ideas for big schedule fixes in the Big Ten. But he'll have plenty of convincing to do in terms of other conference schools before they could ever go into effect.

'Let's play a round-robin. Let's play 10 conference games and two non-conference games. I was the only vote for it.... My thought for the non-conference games is this- why don't we take one of the Big Ten teams that are off our schedule and play them? It's just a non-conference game... I'm concerned that the guy who sits in row 52, seat 14, wants to come and that we give him a great experience. At the same time, we have concern from teh coaches' perspective. We all know that. We want to win.

I've been saying this for years. I know this would never, ever happen. But ideally, I'd like to see this: Bring the Big Ten back to ten teams. (I know the cat's out of the bag on that one, we can't go back. Penn State is here to stay, but let's be hypothetical here.) 12-game schedule, 9 conference games, 3 cupcakes. It guarantees you play every other team in the conference, you get your 'undisputed champion' (the catchphrase of the modern era, it seems), you get your 3 crap games against Sisters of the Poor A%M, and everyone goes home happy. The concern lies, however, in the teams who need that extra cupcake game to be bowl-eligible (Northwestern, Michigan State, Indiana, I'm looking in your direction). Barry Alvarez up at Wisconsin is also notorious for his love of the South Northeastern Delaware State's of the scheduling world. There's also the concern of the home-away issue. That 12th game, for pretty much every Big Ten school, means a home game. They've all got the staying power to demand a school come up to play them without having to pay a return visit to a 20,000 seat stadium in the middle of Idaho. That means $$$.

So for now we're stuck with the 8 conference/4 non-conference schedule. And of course there's the question of the 12th Big Ten team. Unfortunately, there's no real geographic or competitive fit besides Notre Dame. And not only do they not want the Big Ten, there's plenty in Big Ten country who don't want them. It's already bad enough that Michigan is locked in a hopelessly boring 10-year contract through 2012, forever relegating our schedule to Notre Dame and 3 immensly boring games. The Notre Dame rivalry wasn't a yearly thing for a reason.

It's clear that Bill Martin is a money guy, not a sports guy. He's more than happy to let his coaches do their thing and let himself do his thing, and that can be a blessing and a curse. When's he going to pull the plug on the aimless Tommy Amaker era? How about Cheryl Burnett? Can the athletic program stomach another 24th place finish in the Director's Cup?

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