Thursday, August 09, 2007


I am going to go off-topic a little and defend the ol' alma mater against a really weak article by Pat Forde on the Jim Harbaugh/Michigan scrap. What really galls me about the piece is the lack of internal consistency. Forde complains that "Michigan doth protest too much" and then complains that they did not return his calls or e-mails until after his story ran. Forde says that Michigan does not want to discuss facts with Harbaugh, but then he cites a lengthy description by Cathy Conway-Perrin, director of academic standards and academic opportunities in Michigan's LS&A, that explains exactly what the General Studies major is and refutes Harbaugh's point entirely.

If Forde would have spent any time thinking about the explanation offered by Conway-Perrin, he'd recognize that General Studies makes sense for athletes who have an extremely time-consuming sports demand because it has no language requirement (language classes tend to be the most time-intensive and inflexible in terms of scheduling) and it presents fewer schedule issues. For instance, certain majors might require a class that is only taught at a certain time that wouldn't work for a football player. The overall point is that General Studies majors take as many or more upper level classes as students with specific majors, so Harbaugh's point that students come out of Michigan unprepared is bunk. Forde deserves credit for putting out the facts that support Michigan's position, but then he draws conclusions that are at odds with the facts that he printed. And the closing line about Michigan being defensive is ludicrous. Harbaugh made very serious charges about Michigan exploiting its athletes. Maybe a commuter school (such as Forde's beloved Louisville) wouldn't take that seriously, but Michigan's harsh response to Harbaugh is understandable given that the school takes its academic reputation pretty seriously.

This quote from Harbaugh is also weak:

"I learned from a great man named Bo Schembechler that you speak the truth as you know it. It may not be the popular thing, but you speak your mind. Everything I said is supported by fact, but the thing that has come back is the personal attack on me, not looking at the issue whatsoever."

I apologize in advance for making a Mandelian unprovable assertion, but there is no way in hell that Harbaugh would be saying these things while Bo was still alive because the old coach would not be especially pleased. The fact that Harbaugh said nothing about Michigan's alleged corner-cutting academically until he got a head coaching gig at a I-A program detracts from his credibility. If he was genuinely concerned about the fate of Michigan players, then why didn't he say anything until he landed a position in which he will likely be competing with Michigan in at least a few recruiting battles. The fact that Harbaugh was passed over for a position as the quarterbacks coach at Michigan in 2002 when Scott Loeffler was given a full-time position might also seem germane to Harbaugh's motivations in attacking his alma mater.

Harbaugh's narrative is also wildly inconsistent. He lauds Schebechler left and right, but his original criticism was that: (1) he was steered away from a history major when he was at Michigan; and (2) Michigan doesn't take care of its players after they leave. These are criticisms of the program as it was run under Schembechler. Is it too much to ask Pat Forde to actually ask these questions of Harbaugh as opposed to using his column space to repeat everything that Jim says? Or was Pat expecting Michigan to do all of his work for him and was let down when Michigan wouldn't take part in the argument (except to make ad hominem attacks through Lloyd Carr and Mike Hart, which Forde is right to point out skirt the issue).

[Update: Forde botched his criticism of Michigan for having too many undeclared juniors, as he was looking at a previous media guide. The "juniors" in question were sophomores at the time and all but two have since declared majors. I'll look forward to Forde's correction...never.]


Ben said...

Thanks for understanding this. I was beginning to think no one outside of Ann Arbor did.

Anonymous said...

This is really a bit of a reach. Michigan fans and alums need to come to grips with reality. If the discussion is purely about academics, then certainly those who support Michigan have a strong position. If, however, the discussion turns to the academics as it relates to footballs/basketballers and the assertion that Michigan is somehow different than all the other major DI programs, the position immediately weakens. Are there some kids that graduate prepared for the professional world by obtaining a general studies degree? Almost assuredly. Is michigan recruiting players from an entirely different "bucket" than other Top 20 programs? Hell no. Is Michigan a top tier university? Yes. So, the problem (and solution, according to harbaugh) quickly becomes apparent.

Michael said...

1. As with most things, we're talking about degrees of difference here. Michigan does recruit players who wouldn't have a hope of getting into the university without their football skills, but so does Stanford. Stanford has high standards for its players, but they have much higher standards for their regular students.

2. Michigan does not necessarily recruit the same players as its rivals. In a lot of instances, they recruit against schools with lower academic standards. However, there are places that Michigan won't go that its rivals will. Michigan has taken all of two JuCo players in its history. It has declined to recruit players like Eric Knott and Marco Cooper who were highly-rated, local prospects who signed with Michigan State and Ohio State respectively despite academic/off-field issues. Michigan lost out on Sam Young, a very highly-touted OT from Florida, because it could not offer him automatic admission into its business program and Notre Dame could. It's all relative, but Michigan does face academic constraints that are more significant than some of its rivals. By the same token, Stanford has tougher academic requirements for its players. In the end, there is a bit of wishful thinking that goes on with all college football fans that their players with 850 SATs can do well at Michigan or 1000 SATs can do well at Stanford (although Stanford has such significant grade inflation that I can see how their players do OK).

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