There is a likely apocryphal quote attributed to Otto von Bismarck. As far as I can tell, there is no sourced evidence that he ever actually said it, but it's attributed to him nevertheless because as one of history's most shrewd statesmen and most conniving and clever political intriguers, it certainly seems like the type of thing he would say. It goes something like this:
"Sausages and laws are very similar in the sense that people should enjoy the end result, but never see how they are made."
145 years after Bismarck unified the German states, that quote, whether he actually said it or not, could definitely be applied to college football recruiting as well.
Yesterday was a day of tumult across the Michigan websites, as a large portion of the fanbase was exposed to a darkside of recruiting that they have largely been oblivious to. Erik Swenson, who was committed to Michigan since November of 2013 - and I swear I remember his name in an MGoBlog recruiting post from 2010 or so - "decommitted" while making it known that his spot in Michigan's class was explicitly taken away from him. This development caused a seismic stir across the various Michigan message boards - and beyond; this is as close to "mainstream" as a recruiting story gets; news of Jim Harbaugh pulling Swenson's offer two weeks before National Signing Day was headline news across the sports world yesterday, bleeding into today.
The reaction from a sizable portion of Michigan fans was very predictable. This fanbase has always believed that the football program in Ann Arbor was lily white and above board in all respects. Michigan does not do all those nasty things that all the other programs do. For Jim Harbaugh, universal savior of the maize and blue, to do such a cold-blooded deed served as a violent splash of cold water to the face for many Michigan fans yesterday. Denzel Washington's character in Training Day, a dirty and corrupt Los Angeles narcotics officer, explains it to the wet-behind-the-ears pie-in-the-sky idealist played by Ethan Hawke thusly: "I'm sorry I exposed you to it, but it is. It's ugly, but it's
Yesterday was Training Day for many U-M football fans; the realization that this is what the world is like in college football, and the savior we pined for for so long has an edge about him that makes him, in the eyes of some, no better than the next guy. I've had discussions with some fans who are truly and genuinely shaken by this; they never believed something like this could happen at Michigan.
To them, I must say this: it seems to me like you're looking for a unicorn. You want to cheer
for a program that doesn't pay players, doesn't use PEDs, doesn't keep
criminals on the team/deals harshly and swiftly with discipline issues,
doesn't run off unproductive players, and operates 100% above board in
recruiting, honoring all commitments, never oversigning, etc.
Outside of Michigan, circa 2011-2014, you may be invested in the
wrong sport if this is what you're looking for. College football is
dirty. It's absolutely filthy, actually. Who was the last program to win
a national championship playing by the book? You're gonna have to go
back a ways. Michigan in 1997 might be the closest you get. This is how
it is. I'm sorry that you were rudely jolted into reality yesterday, but
that's what it is. If you had any clue the depth and pervasiveness of
what some schools do to gain an edge, you'd never follow the sport
again, if today's events disgusted you as much as you seem to let on. A certain program very familiar to all of us had a
special gym where their players would be steered to for
their "supplements." Another of our "favorite" programs somehow got a star player into school when his GPA could best be expressed as "catastrophic" - a player who would have signed with Michigan if his academics had not been a trainwreck.
Half of the Michigan State roster orchestrated a massive assault on a
fraternity in 2009, and the athletic department suppressed the video
footage, because it would've smothered Dantonio's tenure in its crib.
Dantonio escorted a violent thug from his prison cell to the practice
field. Dantonio had his very own Demar Dorsey on his team (Roderick
Jeanrette), and when the kid was in court facing violent assault charges
in Florida, Dantonio told the media he was dealing with a "family
matter" back home. Nick Saban has spent a decade turning Alabama
boosters loose on the recruiting trail. Alabama under Saban and USC
under Pete Carroll always looked like 30 year old NFL vets instead of 20
year old college kids on the field - are we to believe that somehow
they had the strength and conditioning key to the mint, or did they
create a vast program-wide culture of steroid abuse and human growth
hormone usage? Ole Miss, a program with no history, no tradition, and no
advantages whatsoever other than some hot women, has suddenly turned
into a recruiting juggernaut, reeling in five stars left and right.
Should we believe that Hugh Freeze is just that charismatic...or did Ole Miss boosters finally tire of being an SEC punchline and decide to do things like facilitate a SUBSTANTIAL payoff to the cousin/handler of a 5-star offensive tackle from Texas?
This is the sport you're following and invested in. Your morals
and ideals may be noble in theory, but in this environment, if applied
to a football program, they would serve as nothing more than restrictive
shackles. It's unfortunate that it's like that - but it is. With Erik
Swenson, we have two sides to the story, both of which are likely
incomplete and distorted to fit the view each side wants: Swenson claims
he was blindsided by this and had his scholarship pulled out of the
blue. The coaches have done the best they're able to to put the word out
that this is not how it happened. When you consider the fact that this was a "rumor" months ago (I first heard about it in October, through a visible Michigan recruiting analyst who has inside contacts on the coaching staff), what seems most likely?
That for some reason the coaches chose to tell a recruiting source that
they were souring on Swenson...but not tell Swenson himself? What
purpose would that serve? Or is it more plausible that the coaches, who
were not shy about dropping other recruits they inherited, told Swenson
that they liked him enough to keep him, but he would have to show
development and progression on the field as a senior, and then, once
that didn't happen, tried to let him down easy by letting him know he
should probably start looking for another school? Swenson, being the
devout Michigan fan who grew up dreaming of playing in the Big House,
would've found such news impossible to stomach (a sentiment corroborated by Brian's assertion that the staff tried to break the news to Swenson, and he simply wouldn't accept it), and I can speak from
personal experience, when you receive horrible news, one of your defense
mechanisms is to simply ignore it and pretend it never happened.
that what happened here? Who knows. We don't know the whole picture, and
we never will. But piecing together the evidence certainly seems to
paint a reasonable picture to me: Michigan likely received the first half of
Swenson's senior film in October, didn't like what they saw, and may or
may not have told him to begin looking into other schools (for the
record, a tidbit crossed my desk yesterday that Michigan put feelers out to
other Big Ten schools in an attempt to help Swenson find a soft landing
spot. I don't know when this process started, if it in fact did). We
don't know if they actually told him this or not; I would hope they did;
you would believe they didn't. Swenson's raw emotional response today
is clearly that of a jilted lover who just had his dream destroyed; it's
understandable, absolutely. And it's a regretful story. But to take
someone at their word in a moment of emotion like this is risky. To
believe Swenson when he says this blindsided him strikes me as
This may perhaps be too simplistic, too binary, but from my perspective, you can be one of two people in this business: you can be Brady Hoke, or you can be Jim Harbaugh. Brady Hoke and Al Borges accepted a commitment from De La Salle QB Shane Morris on May 10, 2011 - when he was still technically a high school sophomore, with two full years of HS football left. At that time, Morris was touted as a left-handed Drew Henson; a mildly mobile gunslinger with a laser-guided rocket launcher attached to his left shoulder where most people have an arm. He was hyped as a can't miss 5* prospect who would serve as the foundation for Hoke and Borges's vision for Michigan going into the post-Denard and post-Gardner future.
And for the next two years, Shane Morris accomplished essentially nothing on the football field. Even when he wasn't sidelined with mono, Morris showed no development, no progression, no growth whatsoever. All the promise that came with that cannon arm fizzled away as it became obvious that he did not have that fabled "it" that everyone looks for in a QB. He could not read a defense, he could not go through progressions, he could not feel pressure in the pocket, he could not do much of anything other than throw the ball hard and far.
Hoke and Borges knew this. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt from someone who had close ties to the former coaching staff that they knew Morris was not progressing the way he should. This was a coaching staff that specifically bypassed taking a QB in the 2012 class so that nothing would possibly spook Morris in the 2013 class. They placed every single egg across two entire classes in the Morris basket, and when they began to realize the deadly mistake they had made, they had a choice: they could, through some process or another, break ties with the kid who had been committed since his sophomore year, and take the heat of the PR hit while looking for a replacement. Or they could honor the commitment the player made, and the one they made to the player.
They chose the latter, and today Brady Hoke is DC at Oregon, and Al Borges was fired after 2013 and is now the OC at San Jose State.
Now, of course, their failures at Michigan go far beyond one decision made in recruiting. But take a glimpse at what Jim Harbaugh did in 2015 with a roster composed almost exclusively of Hoke-recruited players - except at the most important position on the field. Hoke left such a gaping black hole at QB that Harbaugh had to go completely outside the program and kick the tires on almost half a dozen grad transfer possibilities before finally getting Jake Rudock to bite, and after a slow start, Rudock leaves here as a 10-game winner and a 3000-yard passer.
I am very sorry about what happened to Erik Swenson. This kid quite literally dreamed of playing for the football program we all love, and that dream has been taken from him. That is an anguish the depth of which very few of us can grasp. But ultimately, as callous as it sounds (and is), this is still a business. Brady Hoke would have held onto Swenson; that's part of the reason why he is 78-70 as a head coach and was fired by Michigan. Jim Harbaugh will never accept players who are not consistently getting better; that's why he's 117-52-1 (NFL and NCAA combined) and will leave Michigan whenever he decides the job he set out to do here is accomplished.
The moral of this story is twofold:
1) it is unwise to make any concrete judgments about anything in
this situation, because we do not and will not ever have the complete
picture. We are not privy to the conversations that took place, and
when. We have two very incomplete and very biased accounts of what went
down. The truth is obscured, and will remain so.
2) This is the nature of the beast. You are following a sport
full of unsavory people and characters. Again, look back through the
years at the national champions. Alabama, four times since 2009. Ohio
State. Florida State. Auburn. Florida. LSU. Oklahoma. Nebraska in the
1990s. Miami. Where are the squeaky clean programs? The teams coached by
morally superior and righteous men? Some of the things Tom Osborne
allowed to happen in the 90s made my stomach turn. He allowed violent
criminals to play without punishment. I'm taking people who were
sadistic and inflicted misery on innocent people; true "thugs." I myself once
compiled a huge list of the transgressions and crimes that occurred
under Jim Tressel's watch at Ohio State. Tressel was essentially a mafia
boss, and even when his crimes caught up to him and he was fired, 18
months later they literally carried him off the field on their shoulders in Columbus.
This is the sport you follow.