Stories indexed with the term ‘college football’

Column: Reforming College Football

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last week, in a surprising decision, the National Labor Relations Board granted the Northwestern University football players the right to unionize, if they want.

But what does that mean? What doesn’t it mean? And how might this change the future of college football?

The NLRB’s ruling made a big splash, but it’s actually very narrow. The decision applies only to private schools. There are only a handful or two that play big time college football – usually about one per major conference – a short list that includes universities like Duke, Rice, Vanderbilt, Stanford and USC. Further, the Northwestern players still have to vote to unionize – not a given – and no matter how they vote, the university is going to appeal the NLRB’s decision.

But the Wildcat players have been very shrewd, and will be hard to dismiss. That starts with their leader, senior quarterback Kain Colter. I got to know him pretty well while researching my latest book, “Fourth and Long,” and I can tell you he’s one of the more impressive young men to play the game today.

Colter is a pre-med major who often had to miss summer workouts to attend afternoon labs. The group he’s formed – the somewhat redundant College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) – is also wisely not asking for money, but post-graduate health care for injuries suffered while playing. Seems to me it’s pretty hard for any university – created to improve the lives of its students, after all – to argue against that. [Full Story]

Column: Michigan Stadium’s Big Open House

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

One debate I could do without is the question of who is a real Michigan fan, and who isn’t?

On the face of it, the question is pretty stupid. A Michigan fan is a fan of Michigan. And beyond the surface, it’s still pretty stupid. But let’s play it out.

The argument goes that only those who attended Michigan can call themselves Michigan fans. The rest? They’re mere “Walmart Wolverines” – fans who could have picked any school to cheer for, as well as any other, just like we pick the pro teams we want to follow, with no other connection than geography.

Why shouldn’t hard-cord alumni turn their backs on their non-degreed brethren?

There’s a history here, going back to James B. Angell, Michigan’s longest serving – and most important – president. [Full Story]

Column: Athletes and The Power of Boycott

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The Grambling State University football team plays in the unheralded Southwestern Athletic Conference, in the division beneath the big boys. They had an 11-game losing streak, stretching back into the 2012 season.

In short, this was not a team that warranted national attention.

But the Grambling Tigers finally got some last month. No, they didn’t notch their first win that day – or even another loss. They didn’t play – and it wasn’t due to bad weather or a bye week. The players simply refused to take the field.

Grambling is a historically black college with a rich tradition. Their legendary coach, Eddie Robinson, won 408 games, which set the record Joe Paterno would break, then relinquish, due to NCAA sanctions.

One of Robinson’s biggest stars was Doug Williams, the first African-American quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl title.

But, as a coach, Williams was more beloved than successful. His Grambling teams couldn’t get it done, while the school itself suffered draconian budget cuts. The players had to travel by bus and work out in a weight room so decrepit, several suffered staph infections.

This fall, it all came to a head. [Full Story]

Column: The Hope for Hoke

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Moments before the Michigan Wolverines introduced Brady Hoke as their new head football coach in 2011, Michigan fans had lots of questions. Why not hire a national star like Les Miles or Jim Harbaugh, who both played at Michigan? Who was Brady Hoke? Was he up to the task of taking over the Wolverines, and returning the team to glory?

Hoke answered these questions by nailing his first press conference. He won over more Michigan fans in just a few minutes than his predecessor, Rich Rodriguez, had been able to capture in three years, for a variety of reasons. When a reporter asked Hoke if the Wolverines would be rebuilding in his first season, he famously replied, “This is Michigan, for godsakes” – and a star was born.

It’s hard to remember a happier honeymoon than Hoke’s. In his rookie season, the Wolverines beat Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State – the latter for the first time in eight years. They won their first BCS bowl game since a young man named Tom Brady did the job in 2000, en route to an 11-2 record. From the fans in the stands to the team in the trenches, the love for Coach Hoke was universal.

But then a great senior class graduated, the schedule got tougher, and Michigan’s amazing luck finally ran out. Hoke’s second team went 8-5, but most fans gave Hoke a pass, and I believe rightly so.

But the Wolverines don’t look much better this year, and might even be worse. [Full Story]

Column: Saving College Sports

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, who might be the smartest man in college sports, stood outside the Big Ten’s brand new offices last week, telling a group of reporters, “Maybe in football and basketball, it would work better if more kids had a chance to go directly into the professional ranks. If they’re not comfortable and want to monetize, let the minor leagues flourish.”

It isn’t clear if Delany’s comments reflected his deeply held beliefs, an offhand comment, or just a daring bluff – but if it’s the latter, it isn’t as daring as it seems.

By challenging the NFL and NBA to start their own minor leagues, Delany doesn’t have much to lose. He knows they won’t, because they have every reason not to. They’ve used the college leagues to develop their players from the day the pro leagues started. Why would they derail the gravy train now?

And even if they did, it wouldn’t cost the Big Ten much, if anything.

But if we call Delany’s bluff and play it out, we’ll see it leads to one idea that could actually save what we love most about college football: the passion no other sport can match.  [Full Story]

Column: Lessons the NCAA Needs to Learn

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

On November 5, 2011, Penn State’s former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested on forty criminal counts, including the sexual assault of eight boys over a fifteen-year period, one of them in the showers of Penn State’s football building.

That put in motion a series of events that few could have imagined: it exposed the worst scandal in the history of modern sports; it led to the midseason firing of the iconic Joe Paterno; it prompted the hiring of little-known New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien; it resulted in Penn State’s commissioning the Freeh Report, which concluded university leaders knew enough about what Sandusky had done, but cared more about protecting the university’s image than his young victims; and it surely accelerated Paterno’s decline and death – all within three months of Sandusky’s arrest.

But Penn State’s troubles were far from over. [Full Story]

Column: Bo’s ‘Sons’ Face Off in Super Bowl

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Even those who don’t follow sports probably know the Super Bowl is a week from Sunday.  And, for the first time ever, in any major American sport, the opposing head coaches are brothers. More important for Michiganders, they are the Harbaugh brothers, John and Jim, who went to Ann Arbor Pioneer High School. So, you’ll probably start to hear lots of stories from the folks who met them along the way.

Well, count me in.

Their dad, Jack, coached under Michigan’s Bo Schembechler in the ’70s. His oldest son John played football at Pioneer High and Miami of Ohio, then worked his way up the ladder until he became the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens in 2008. He told the Washington Post he’s based his coaching philosophy on Bo’s coaching philosophy.

John’s younger brother Jim has had a complicated relationship with Michigan, but not with Bo. Jim is my age, and when we were 12 he was Michigan’s ball boy – which made all of us envious. I played against him in baseball, and with him in hockey. That was my best sport, and I was just barely better than he was – that’s my claim, anyway – and hockey was his fourth sport, which he played on the side during basketball season. Guess which one of us became a sports writer? [Full Story]

Column: The True Cost of Football Tickets

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

This week, the University of Michigan announced an increase in the cost of “seat licenses” for football season ticket holders.

Before I dive into what all this means, let me explain what a “seat license” is, because, if you’re a normal person, it won’t make much sense.

A “seat license” is a fee that teams make their fans pay just to reserve the right to buy the actual tickets. They call it a donation – which is a stretch, since every fan apparently decided to donate exactly the same amount, or lose our tickets. But that allows us to claim it as a gift to a state university, and a tax deduction.

It’s hard to call that honest. Thanks to the latest hike, it’s hard to call it cheap, either.

In fairness, Michigan was the last of the top 20 programs, ranked by attendance, to adopt a seat license program, in 2005 – even though Michigan always finishes first in attendance. And the seat licenses started gradually: $250 for the best seats the first year, then $500 the second. They were nice enough to spare the folks in the endzone.

But this week Michigan pushed the seat license for the top ticket up to $600 each, and even the folks in the endzone will have to pay $150 per ticket, just for the right to buy them. In the past decade, the total cost of my two tickets on the ten-yard line has more than tripled, to over $1,700. But my seats are no better, and the schedule keeps getting worse.

It makes you wonder how we got here. [Full Story]

Column: Let’s End the Football Bowl Charade

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

College football’s regular season ended Saturday, with the various conference championship games closing out a 14-week season. The next day, Sunday, the 35 bowl games sent out their invitations to 70 lucky teams. But when you look a little closer at their bowl offers, you have to wonder if those 70 teams were really that lucky at all.

The people who sell bowl games need us to believe a few things: (1) Their games are rewards for teams that had a great season; (2) They offer players and fans a much-wanted vacation; and (3) The bowls are nonprofits, while the schools make a killing.

These claims are nice – and would be even nicer if any of them they were actually true.

Forty years ago, college football got by with just 11 bowl games. The 22 teams the bowls invited were truly elite, and so were the bowls themselves – like the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl and The Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl. Back then, when your team got into a bowl game, you knew they’d done something special.

But in the past four decades, the number of bowls has more than tripled, to a staggering 35. The “bowl season” now stretches almost a full month, which is how many days you need to fit in such timeless classics as The Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl, and the legendary Bowl. How many Taxslayer.coms fit into a bowl? It’s a question only theologians can answer. [Full Story]

Column: Notre Dame Sells Out Rivalry, Fans

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The only constant is change.

Yeah, yeah. We know that – and in case we didn’t, there’s always some office blowhard too eager to say it, as if it’s the most profound truth of the universe.

But that’s why, the more things change, the more we appreciate things that don’t. When Carole King sang, “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place any more?” she probably wasn’t talking about NFL franchises, but she could’ve been. From 1982 to 1995, seven NFL teams moved – about a quarter of the league – which is just one more reason I’ve always preferred college football: universities don’t move.

During that same stretch, Michigan played Notre Dame in the first or second weekend of the season every year, and the games were so good Sports Illustrated gave the game four of ten cover stories, and four features – eclipsing the NFL’s opening weekend, and tennis’s U.S. Open.

The rivalry had almost everything going for it, including history. In 1887, the men from Michigan were traveling to play a game against Northwestern. When they found out, en route, that Northwestern had canceled, they got off in South Bend – and literally taught those boys how to play the game. It remains the oldest rivalry among major college powers. [Full Story]

Column: “Fix” Is In For College Football Playoff

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Well, it’s finally upon us. No, not the apocalypse – the Mayan calendar be damned – but a bona fide, Division I, college football playoff.  A committee of 12 university presidents – not coaches, or even athletic directors, but presidents – recently approved a plan to create a four-team college football playoff, the last major sport to have one.

So what if college football somehow survived without a playoff since its inception in 1869?  That’s 22 years before James B. Naismith invented the game of basketball, 34 years before the first World Series, and 51 years before the National Football League was even formed.

But yes, we need a playoff now.  Because clearly, the first 143 years of college football were pointless, meaningless and worthless – because they didn’t have a playoff.

It’s true that college football’s popularity – in attendance, TV ratings, merchandise sales, and just about any other way you want to measure it – has never been greater.  But yes, we need a playoff now. [Full Story]

Column: Signing Day Insanity

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The most important day of the year for a college football coach is not the home opener, the big rivalry game or even a bowl game. It’s national signing day, which falls on the first Wednesday in February.

On signing day, the end zone is not grass or Astroturf, but a fax machine tray. Only when a signed National Letter of Intent breaks the plane of that tray does it count.

Sounds pretty simple, right? A couple years ago I got a chance to see the sausage get made at close range – and it’s a lot crazier than you imagined.

The coaches start by collecting information on more than a thousand players years in advance. Then they watch hundreds of hours of film, and make dozens of trips across the country – from Pasadena to Pahokee – to meet with hundreds of high school players, their parents and their coaches. They follow that up with thousands of calls, emails and text messages – all in the hopes of getting the 25 players they think will help them win a title a few years later.

That’s bad enough, but now, thanks to ESPN and the Internet, recruiting has become a full-blown season in its own right. It lasts all year – and it’s harder on the coaches than the actual football season is. [Full Story]

Column: Who Wins with College Bowl Games?

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The college football bowl season has always been a little crazy – but most of that used to be fun crazy. Lately, though, it’s been turning bad crazy – and fast. Here’s why.

Michigan played in the first ever bowl game against Stanford on New Year’s Day in 1902. The Wolverines won, 49-0 – but didn’t play another bowl game for 46 years.

Pasadena didn’t host another game until 1916, and no other bowl games even existed until 1935, when the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Sun Bowl all started, followed two years later by the Cotton Bowl. But the games were just glorified exhibitions, created to reward a few teams with a nice trip, and promote southern cities.

That started to change in 1948, when Michigan’s Fritz Crisler played matchmaker between the current Big Ten and the Pac-12, who started sending their league champions to play each other at the Rose Bowl every New Year’s Day. If you were second place, you only got to play in a bowl if your league champion repeated, because the university presidents didn’t want their teams to go to a bowl game two years in a row.

Bowl games were considered so insignificant that Notre Dame didn’t bother to go to any bowl games from 1926 until 1970 – and still won seven national titles during that stretch.

But when Michigan’s undefeated, fourth-ranked 1973 team tied top-ranked Ohio State, and was denied a trip to Pasadena by a vote of athletic directors, the Big Ten ended its 25-year-old ban, and let any team in the league go to any bowl game that would have them. [Full Story]

Column: Redemption at the Sugar Bowl

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The Big Ten is still considered one of the nation’s top leagues, despite its frequent belly flops in bowl games. This year, the Big Ten placed a record 10 teams in bowl games – then watched them drop, one by one. And not just in the storied Rose Bowl, but in games like the Gator Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, and the Insight Bowl. When Iowa got whipped 31-14, I wonder just how much insight they had gained.

Until Monday, Big Ten teams had managed to win only two games: the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit, over Western Michigan, and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, over a team that had a losing record and no coach. In non-food based bowls, the Big Ten had no luck at all.

Then, Michigan State came to the rescue. The Spartans beat Michigan during the regular season, they won their division, and they seemed poised to win the Big Ten’s first conference championship game until one of their players was called for “roughing the punter.” This is on a par with giving the class nerd noogies– and about as serious. But it cost them the game.

Their reward for all this? An invitation to a less prestigious bowl game than Michigan received. The Spartans were ticked off – and rightly so.

After Georgia jumped out to a 16-0 lead at the half, the Spartans came back to tie the game in the final seconds. And that’s when things got really nutty. In the first overtime, the Georgia kicker missed a chance at a game-winning field goal. Then, in the third overtime, the Spartans blocked his kick to win. Small wonder college coaches knock back Rolaids like Chiclets.

Michigan’s road to redemption was even crazier – and far longer. [Full Story]

Column: Speaking Truth to Power

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

College football coaches are far from the richest people in sports, but they could be the most powerful. That might seem far-fetched, but not to the disciples of Bear Bryant, Woody Hayes, and Tom Osborne, to name just three, who rose to become almost spiritual leaders at their schools.

At University of Michigan president James Duderstadt’s retirement banquet in 1996, he said being president wasn’t easy, but it came with some nice perks. He even got to meet the man thousands of people considered God. “No,” he said, “not Bo Schembechler, but the Dalai Lama.”

It got a laugh, but it also revealed how much presidents both fear and resent their coaches’ power, which can eclipse almost everything else on campus. The best that schools can hope for is an enlightened despot, one who keeps things clean – while winning ten games a year and beating their arch-rival.

Michigan has been lucky. Its biggest icons – Fielding Yost, Fritz Crisler, and Bo Schembechler – were not just revered, they were restrained, refusing to resort to the dirty tactics their opponents used on and off the field.

No one in the history of Penn State stamped the school more than Joe Paterno did. He led the Nittany Lions to five perfect seasons, and did it the right way. He didn’t spend a dollar to expand his humble ranch home, instead donating more than $4 million to expand the university.

As Mark Twain said, once a man earns a reputation for hard work, he can sleep until noon. Likewise, Paterno’s image eventually took on a life of its own, one so powerful no mere mortal dared question it.

The acid test was his former top assistant, Jerry Sandusky, who received the first formal complaint about his questionable conduct from a boy’s mother back in 1998. This introduced a pattern of reports, with all of them systematically squelched by Paterno and Penn State. Having seen Michigan’s coaches spend 16-hour days together – which is typical at that level – I find it impossible to believe Penn State’s coaches weren’t all too aware of Sandusky’s behavior, and the danger it posed. [Full Story]

Column: Taking Stock of “Three and Out”

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

In the summer of 2008, Rich Rodriguez granted me unfettered access to the Michigan football program so I could write a book. Three years later the book is finished, and like just about everybody else connected to Michigan football the past three years, I had no idea what I was getting into.

During my three years following the Michigan football team, the working title of the book changed from “All or Nothing,” to “All In,” to “Third and Long,” before Rodriguez’s last season, and after he was fired, to “Three and Out.”

At first, I thought I was watching the football version of “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Then, maybe “Shawshank Redemption.” Guy gets dumped on, but comes through. Then, I finally realized I was watching “Titanic.” The unsinkable ship goes down. The hottest coach in America takes over the winningest program in the nation – and the marriage seemingly made in heaven ends in an ugly divorce. [Full Story]

Column: Rodriguez and The Michigan Man

Editor’s note: Columnist John U. Bacon has been answering questions from Michigan fans on MGoBlog about his upcoming book, “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football” (FSG, $28, out October 25, 2011). Last week, he described how he gained access to UM’s football program, and how his book deal emerged. This week, he talks about the early days of the Rodriguez regime, what it means to be a “Michigan Man,” and what his future plans are following publication of this book.

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

One of the central questions that comes up in various forms about Rich Rodriguez is the “Fit, or Lack Thereof” with Michigan’s program. I’ll start to answer that question by working backward, from the final seconds of Rodriguez’s regime.

On January 5, 2011, the assistant coaches, staffers, and yours truly were all sitting in the coaches’ meeting room, when Rodriguez walked in, laid a file down on the table, and said, “Well, as expected, they fired me.” He later added, “It was a bad fit here from the start.”

And in many ways it was. But I’m not certain it had to be.

People who were living in Ann Arbor in 1968 can tell you about the last outsider to take the reins: Bo Schembechler. His predecessor, Bump Elliott, was a former Michigan All-American who was smart and humble, with an urbane, conservative manner. He didn’t yell at his players, he rarely swore, and if you said you were hurt, that was enough for him.

When Schembechler’s crew arrived with their wives sporting beehive hairdos and stiletto heels, some Michigan insiders took to calling them “The Ohio Mafia.” The players quickly learned the new guy yelled, swore, grabbed your facemask and literally kicked you in the ass. If you were merely hurt, not injured, but didn’t want to practice, you got left behind when the team plane took off.

Instead of turning his back on the new regime, however, Elliott embraced them, hosting parties for their families and introducing them to important people around town. He did not allow players to come to his office in the Athletic Department to complain about the new guy, either. And when Schembechler delivered what today would be an unforgivable comment about changing “Michigan’s silly helmets,” Elliott, Don Canham, Fritz Crisler and Bob Ufer quietly taught him Michigan tradition.

And, to Schembechler’s credit, he was wise enough to listen, and even seek out their help.

When Michigan upset Ohio State that year, they gave Bump Elliott the game ball, and there was not a dry eye in the room.

That’s Michigan at its best. The last three years were not. [Full Story]

Column: “Three and Out” A Complex Saga

Editor’s note: Earlier this week, columnist John U. Bacon started answering questions from Michigan fans on MGoBlog about his upcoming book, “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football” (FSG, $28, out October 25, 2011). This column is adapted from that conversation.

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Q: So let’s talk about how this book came about. You had total unfettered access to Rich Rodriguez? How does that come about? Why would anyone agree to such a thing? What was his motivation?

This book came about largely by dumb luck – and it was luck, of all kinds, that reshaped it several times before I finished this summer.

With my degree in history (“pre-unemployment”) in my pocket, I got my first job out of Michigan teaching U.S. history and coaching hockey at Culver Academies in Indiana. One of my best students, Greg Farrall, went on to become an All-Big Ten defensive end, and then a successful financial adviser.

We’ve stayed in touch, and in early 2008, he asked for some signed copies of “Bo’s Lasting Lessons,” including one for his former coach at Indiana, Bill Mallory, and another to his boss at the time, Mike Wilcox – who just happened to be Rich Rodriguez’s financial adviser. In fact, when Rodriguez first met with Bill Martin and Mary Sue Coleman in December 2007, they did so at Wilcox’s Toledo office. [Martin was UM's athletic director at the time. Coleman is president of the university.]

One thing led to another, and in July 2008 Wilcox asked me if I’d be interested in getting complete access to Rodriguez’s first Michigan team. I thought about it for a week or so, before concluding I’d be crazy not to jump at this chance. [Full Story]

Column: Northwestern’s Miracle Season

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Michigan plays Northwestern in Evanston tomorrow for the first time since 2007. The undefeated, 11th ranked Wolverines are favorites, but beating the Wildcats is no longer the easy game it used to be. Whatever happens this weekend, it can’t match what happened back in 1995.

Before 1995, the idea of Michigan losing to Northwestern was preposterous. In Bo Schembechler’s 21 years leading the Wolverines, he lost to every Big Ten team at least once – except Northwestern, which Bo’s teams beat by scores like 31-0, 35-0 and, yes, 69-0.

But back then, everybody beat up on the lowly Wildcats – often called the Mildcats. From the early ’70s to the mid ’90s, they had 17 really bad years, surrounding a stretch of six really, really bad years – when they won a grand total of three games against 62 defeats. Only the Washington Generals, who play every game against the Harlem Globetrotters, had a worse record.

Northwestern’s stadium seats half as many fans as Michigan’s, but they hadn’t sold it out since 1963. Some years, their attendance for the entire season was less than Michigan attracted for a single game. [Full Story]

Column: How Big Is Big (10) Enough?

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

College conferences are going through a major upheaval – perhaps the biggest in the history of college sports.

In the past year, we’ve seen Nebraska join the Big Ten, Colorado and Utah join the Pac-10, and, this week, Syracuse and Pittsburgh join the Atlantic Coast Conference – geography be damned. In fact, DePaul, Marquette and Texas Christian University just joined the Big East. Which raises the question: Just how big is the East, anyway? Big enough to swallow half the Midwest and a chunk of Texas?

I’ve noticed a lot of people who don’t care that much about sports seem to care a lot about this. For non-sports fans, college conferences are kind of like your parents as you get older. You might not check in with them every day, but it’s good to know they’re there, safe and sound.

Our conferences have been there much longer, of course. Way back in 1895, seven university presidents – not athletic directors or coaches – created what we now call the Big Ten. Those seven presidents didn’t do it to make money. They thought it unseemly for a university to charge anybody anything to watch their students play football. The presidents didn’t discuss marketing or “branding,” either. They simply wanted to ensure everybody representing their university was a bona fide student, an amateur athlete, and safe. A good start. The Big Ten served as the model for just about every conference that followed, coast to coast.

Like so much that is great about college athletics, those conferences formed organically and authentically, bringing together schools of similar size, quality and character. They also defined our regions better than any labels. [Full Story]

Column: Desmond Howard’s Unlikely Legacy

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Desmond Howard stands about 5-foot-8 – I don’t care what the program said. When Bo Schembechler moved the Cleveland native from tailback to receiver, it virtually eliminated any chance Howard had to win the Heisman Trophy. In its first 55 years, only one receiver had ever taken it home.

But then, just playing at Michigan practically knocked Howard out of the running in the first place. Only one Wolverine, Tom Harmon, had ever won the award – and that was back in 1940.

Schembechler never promoted any player for any award – Heisman or otherwise. Because, as he often said, “Nothing comes before The Team, The Team, The Team.” When Bo stepped down in 1990, Gary Moeller took over, and followed the exact same policy.

In the modern era – when Notre Dame’s Joe Theismann started pronouncing his name as Theismann to rhyme with Heisman, and Oregon paid big money to put a huge poster of Joey Harrington on the side of a Manhattan building – Michigan’s policy was positively anachronistic.

Bo didn’t care. “That is not how a Michigan man earns his hardware.” After all, he promised, “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions,” not, “Those Who Stay Will Get Their Faces Painted On New York City Skyscrapers.” [Full Story]

Column: Welcome to the Big Ten, Nebraska

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Today, for only the third time in almost a century, the Big Ten will officially admit another university to the league. Nebraska left the Big Eight conference to start playing Big Ten football this fall.

The Cornhuskers will receive a slice of the much bigger Big Ten TV pie, but that might not be the best reason to join.

To celebrate Nebraska joining the nation’s oldest conference, the Big Ten Network will be kicking off three days of non-stop programming. Now I’m the kind of guy who might actually watch three days of non-stop programming about the Cornhuskers, but you might have other priorities this holiday weekend.

So, I’m here to tell you what you need to know in three easy minutes. [Full Story]

Column: No Happy Ending at Ohio State

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The Jim Tressel era at Ohio State started on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2001.

The Buckeyes happened to have a basketball game that night against Michigan, so it was a good opportunity to introduce their new football coach. When Tressel stood up to speak, he knew exactly what they wanted.

He was hired on the heels of John Cooper, whose record at Ohio State was second only to that of Woody Hayes. But in 13 seasons, Cooper’s teams lost to Michigan a stunning ten times. Can’t do that. And you can’t say, “It’s just another game,” either – which might have been his biggest mistake.

Knowing all this, Tressel told the crowd, “I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field.”

The place went crazy. “At last,” they said, “somebody gets it!” [Full Story]

Column: Game of the Century?

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

By beating Penn State on Saturday, Michigan State secured a share of its first Big Ten title in 20 years. It was a big game, but it was far from Michigan State’s biggest.

The biggest game in the Spartans’ long history wasn’t one of their 30 victories over Michigan, their six national title-clinching contests or their three Rose Bowl triumphs.

No, the biggest game in Michigan State history was against Notre Dame in 1966 – and it wasn’t a victory. [Full Story]

Column: Why Bo Didn’t Go

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Since the Michigan and Wisconsin football teams first played each other in 1892, Michigan has won a decisive 80% of those games.

The difference was one man: Bo Schembechler, who beat the Badgers 18 of 19 times. If Schembechler had coached Wisconsin, instead of Michigan, the record would be almost even.

That actually almost happened. And it all came down to a 40-minute meeting, 43 years ago.

Schembechler became the head coach of his alma mater, Miami of Ohio, in 1963, at the ripe old age of 33. After Miami won its league title in 1965 and ’66, Wisconsin came calling for the head coach. [Full Story]

Column: College Football Beats the Pros

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last Saturday, the Michigan State Spartans beat the Michigan Wolverines in the most anticipated rivalry game in years. But that was overshadowed just one day later by the Detroit Lions, who pulled off one of the great upsets of the NFL season, when they … beat someone. Anyone. Doesn’t matter. At football!

Hard to believe it was just two years ago the Lions became the first NFL team to lose all 16 games. And now, here they are, standing tall at 1-5.

That’s why their victory was such big news. I hear from my friends who have real jobs that it was bigger talk around the office water cooler than the Michigan-Michigan State game – and that’s saying something.

It just proves my theory that Detroit really isn’t Hockeytown. It’s a football town. Whenever the Lions so much as show a pulse, the locals go loco.

But I’m still not biting. Not just on the Lions, but on pro football itself. [Full Story]

Column: Understanding The Gipper

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The Notre Dame football team has lost three straight games to Michigan, Michigan State and Stanford. Normally, nobody would care about a 1-3 team that’s finished in the top 10 just three times in the past two decades. But this is Notre Dame, the nation’s first football team with a national following.

It all started with coach Knute Rockne and his best player, George Gipp – more commonly known as “The Gipper.” Thanks to the famous phrase “Win one for the Gipper,” and a 1940 movie starring Ronald Reagan, who played the Gipper, George Gipp remains famous 90 years after his death. He’s also woefully misunderstood. [Full Story]

Column: Paying the Price

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Just a few hours after Michigan State beat Notre Dame with a gutsy fake field goal in overtime, Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack.

Granted, Dantonio is probably wired a little tighter than most. If you see a picture of him laughing, the photo was probably taken with a quick-reflex camera. But the fact is, every college coach is wired tight – simply because they have to be.

Anyone who’s coached their kids’ soccer team knows how nerve-wracking even that can be. But for my money nothing beats college football for pure, mind-frying stress. [Full Story]

Column: Dropping the Ball

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The Heisman Trophy had humble beginnings. In 1935, the Downtown Athletic Club of New York City – a private organization with no ties to the NCAA or any major football conference or team – decided to give an award to the best player in college football. The next year, when the Club’s most famous member, John Heisman, died of pneumonia, the members named the award after him.

They made a fine choice. Heisman went to Brown University as an undergrad, and the University of Pennsylvania for his law degree before becoming a coach in 1892. He coached at six colleges, including Georgia Tech, where he led his team to a 33-game winning streak. Many historians consider him the father of the forward pass. And, on the side, Heisman was a skilled Shakespearean actor.

But his best line was his own. To start the season each fall, he would hold a football in his hand and tell his players, “Men, it is better to die as a young boy than to drop this ball.”

It did not take long for Heisman’s trophy to gain prestige. Today it’s probably the best-known trophy awarded to an American athlete. But, there is a catch: The winner has to be an eligible amateur athlete. [Full Story]