Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dantonio Breaks His Silence - Is This The End of Sparty?

Requiem – (noun) Definition:    an act or token of remembrance.

I’d like to tell you a story about a group of people that, collectively, seem to lack any respect for their said rivals.  A group of people that I’m not totally sure how to describe in a way that can make them seem “likeable”.  Granted, there’s always an individual or two that when you can talk to them one on one seem like reasonable, intelligent people that you could hang out with.  I’m not including those individuals, but rather the collective that cheers disrespect and makes their haters hate them back even more.  They talk of pride and “doing it right”; and then they fall and fail due to their own hubris and get caught more often than not, “Doing it wrong…”

This group is called “Spartans”.

In an effort to educate you and to help you understand the nature of Sparty Fan and their hatred of Michigan, you need a little history.  As you are aware, I will often times dismiss Sparty and their ilk as not being a true rival to the University of Michigan (this statement alone creates tension).  And there’s plenty of reasons:  The Football record supports that claim with an overall ratio of 3:1 victory margin going to MichiganBasketball is closer to a true rivalry with Michigan leading there as well at 91-81.   Other sports (Baseball, Track and Field, Swimming, etc.) all have Michigan well in the lead.  If there is a sport where Sparty has a lead, I’m not aware of it and feel free to message, e-mail or comment about it and I will acknowledge it accordingly.

Not to mention that Michigan has always traditionally been the harder school to get accepted to and often times, when you can’t get into Michigan, MSU becomes the go-to back-up plan if you want to stay in state and go to a large, D-1 public institution.
All that being said from a sports and academic perspective, it’s easy to see why Sparty has a chip on their shoulder.  The chip grew when Michigan single handedly kept the Michigan Agricultural College (MAC) out of the Big 10 for decades, but finally allowed them to join in 1953 when a vacancy was created by an exiting University of Chicago in 1946.  Which means that the MAC had to struggle for 7 years to meet the academic requirements needed to be a Big 10 member but finally got over the hurdle, so to speak…and according to some have been struggling to stay academically qualified ever since.

The chip grew larger when Daryl Rogers quipped, “They truly are arrogant asses in Ann Arbor.”  While Michigan fans laughed at the rebuke, we often wondered why the Sparty collective just couldn’t enjoy their accomplishments and not try to measure themselves against a University that had more history, tradition and national status than MSU could ever hope to have, simply based on the origins of the schools.
But to see a neighbor proudly wave success and excellence in your face can be considered a “micro-aggression” and the chip on the shoulder grows…

And Michigan is successful, in many areas!  Academically rated in the Top 10 annually, Hospital and Healthcare breakthroughs via research on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, and of course, also in the athletic arena.

It’s easy to see that if you identify with Michigan, others may view you as arrogant for being proud of everything that’s been accomplished. That you can be part of ANY and ALL conversations regarding the recognition of Excellence and continuing accomplishments in all walks of life.   As my oldest daughter likes to say to anyone that wants to argue about the most famous alumni list, “Michigan has Darth Vader.  Who’ve you got???”   (I’ve tried to get her to use President Ford, but that hasn’t quite caught on with her yet….)

Not to mention that Tom Brady being the Greatest NFL QB Of All Time immediately comes to mind…

In an office discussion that was the original motivation for this post, (A secondary motivation was when a different Sparty stated that “Michigan is a One and Done Team” in the NCAA this season – more on that in a minute). I was proclaiming the Brady Accolades and a Sparty countered with just about every argument you ever hear when it comes to Brady.  “He’s a System QB, Belechik is a way better coach than anyone else, if he had played anywhere else he would have been average or gone from the league by now”…name it.  And this was not presented in the usual matter of fact tone, but spewed with venom and hatred.*   I asked him why he was so angry and why can’t he simply be happy for a guy that’s working harder than anyone to accomplish something that’s never been done?  Why didn’t he want to pull for a guy that could possibly win 6 Superbowls?  I also asked if he would respect Brady’s accomplishments more if he hadn’t gone to Michigan…

My co-worker’s response:   “I hate that Brady went to Michigan and I hate that every time somebody starts to talk about this I have to think about Michigan.  Yeah, I hate Brady, but I hate him even more because he went to Michigan.”
*Is there a website or something out there with “I hate Tom Brady” as its title?  Turns out a LOT of people have written about why we hate Tom Brady.  And get this – Michigan IS one of the reasons!!!


That got me to thinking.  I “hate” the DomersBut that developed on my own over time.  My parents didn’t (initially) hate Notre Dame, but once I began pointing out all the faults, failures, the utter hypocrisy of University and, specifically, Domer fans and their pure hatred of Michigan, well, I think they have come around to hating the Domers, too. 
So, I have multiple reasons that I think, on the surface, make Notre Dame, its officials, coaches and all their ilk easy to hate. 

But I only hate Sparty because there’s simply no mutual respect from Sparty for Michigan.  Because, and I just realized this, Sparty has never liked or respected themselves very much.  It’s always been and always will be a contest against Michigan.  That’s the measuring stick. Even when Sparty has been successful.  The Statement “Spartan Pride” was just that.  A statement, not a belief. 

Even one of sparty’s football promotions had to use Michigan’s Locker Room Motivation placard, “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions!”

But Here’s The Thing:  It’s not about winning any particular championship!!!
The meaning of that statement is lost on many people.  It’s an amalgam of Bo and the Great Fielding H. Yost: 

“What the Mind can Conceive and Believe, the Mind can Achieve…And Those That Stay Will Be Champions!” – Bo Schembechler
“But do let me reiterate the Spirit of Michigan.  It is based on a deathless loyalty to Michigan and all her ways; an enthusiasm that makes it second nature for Michigan Men to spread the gospel of their university to the world’s distant outposts; a conviction that nowhere is there a better university, in any way, than this Michigan of ours!”  - Fielding H. Yost

And I’m going to take the liberty of putting the two together, right here: 


That’s what it’s about.  That’s a belief.  Words to live by.

So many times Sparty could have just enjoyed the moment over the last decade and said, “Hey, were on our way towards achieving permanent excellence!  Spartan Pride!  Instead, they hold up awards and accomplishments to start fights with Michigan fans, stating things like, “We got here first!  We’re the best in the state!  We rule the state!!”

Great.  Have fun with that.

But enjoy it because the school you support accomplished it.  Not because the other guy DIDN’T accomplish it. 

Sparty’s most recent football coach is now famous for saying that “The Pride comes before the fall…” in reference to Michigan senior running back Mike Hart’s “Little Brother” comments.  While there are times I regret (Slightly) the Little Brother comment, it’s out there.  And its truth is difficult to argue.  As is Dantonio’s comment.  There was and still is pride in Michigan and everything about her.  And while our patience with regard to Football was tested mightily in the last 10-15 years, the pride has been restored…Not that it was ever really gone. 

I can’t help but think that Karma has come full circle on Sparty.  For an athletic program that was so prideful less than a year ago it is now on the brink of utter collapse.  Blinded by its own hubris and arrogance, the fall that has come has been quick and painful. 

1.    Making the CFP Final 4 but losing in ugly fashion to Bama in 2016. 

2.    Earning a 2-Seed in the 2016 NCAA Tourney and immediately losing the first round game which had only happened 7 other times in the history of the NCAA’s

3.    Going 3-9 in the 2016 football season and taking pride in “Losing With Dignity!”

4.    Getting hit with the injury bug and barely making the NCAA, only to suffer what I was told is a “One and Done!!!” humiliation at the hands of Kansas

5.    Multiple claims and complaints that have initiated several investigations (MSU Police, Title IX investigators, and an external football law firm) into alleged sexual assaults by three football players and one coach, who has been suspended.  (You don’t need to watch the press conference.  All Dantonio states is he can’t comment n anything!!!)  http://www.mlive.com/spartans/index.ssf/2017/03/live_video_mark_dantonio_break.html

6.    Not to mention other the woman’s gymnastic coach being dismissed for attempting to protect and covere up Dr. Nassar’s sexual assault of up to 70 female athletes.  It’s so bad, AD Hollis, Chairman of the 2017 Selection Committee had to back out of a 2 week, 12 game tour he planned on taking to manage issues on the home-front. http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2017/03/27/msu-nassar-sex-abuse-allegations/99701518/

7.    Starting Offensive Tackle Thiyo Lukusa leaving the team stating, “I’d like to say it’s been fun.  I’d like to say that.  I can’t.”

8.    Leading Defensive Linebacker Reschke leaving after making a derogatory comment to a former teammate.  http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/college/michigan-state-university/spartans/2017/02/24/linebacker-jon-reschke-leaving-michigan-state/98371232/

What’s it All Mean?

Mark Dantonio is 60.  Izzo is 62.  There’s maybe 10-12 years left between them.  Righting the football ship is going to take EVERYTHING Dantonio can muster over the next 5 years.  Last season was not a “fluke”.  It’s going to get harder.  Sparty has real, serious issues.  Depth on offensive line, QB and some other skill position issues.  Not to mention a depleted defense.  Next season could very well be a “read the book, see the movie” scenario for the jolly green giants of the turf.  Dantonio had heart problems before…The stress is only going to get turned up on him and the entire staff.

  While Dantonio has the goodwill with the fan base to whether a couple of losing, bowl-less seasons, the question everyone should be asking is:  Does he want to put himself through that?  Does he want to suffer the health and mental issues going through that (again) will surely bring?

Izzo probably has a better shot of turning things around on the hardwood next season, assuming everyone can come back and play at the same level before they were injured, but that’s a big assumption, too.  How much longer he goes is also in question.  I’ve always felt that Izzo wants to win one more NC.  2014 looked like the season it was going to happen, and if Sparty hadn’t fallen asleep during the 2nd half to U-Conn, well…who knows.  But a comment the Izzo made this season after losing to Kansas is, “I don’t care about winning games.  I care about winning this Tournament.”  Well, if that’s what you’re striving for, this season wasn’t a great template for that success. 

Izzo knows how hard it is to put it all together for a Final 4 run.  He has some players coming back next season, but he’s also going to have holes to fill.  I’ve also always thought that Izzo wanted to try it in the NBA and if that is still a dream, that window of time is growing very short indeed.

My point is:  Sparty athletics may already be “dead” and the best years are well behind them.  As a fan, you don’t see it happening because you figure your team is always going to get better.  But that’s not always the case. 

Michigan fans have learned that the hard way. 

So am I prematurely throwing dirt on Sparty Athletic’s grave? Perhaps I am. Sparty fans reading this (assuming they’ve made it this far) will claim I’m piling on and there’s absolutely “nothing wrong that Dantonio can’t fix”.  Maybe.  I mean, he did it once.  But it’s hard to change a Zebra’s stripes….The magnitude and scope of the issue(s) surrounding the football team cannot be denied.  Dantonio has locker room and leadership issues.  Not to mention when the words “Title IX investigations” show up in the press, well, it never looks good nor does it appeal to potential recruits (and their parents), especially if there are other schools interested.  Look at what’s happened to Baylor and the time it takes to get something like this behind you.  Plus, the damage is done and it always leaves a scar.  There’s absolutely no getting away from that… 

And while each coach might come close to greatness one more time, the golden age of Sparty is coming to an end.  And it won’t be an easy thing to replace.   Hopefully Sparty recognized what they had when it was happening and took the time to enjoy it.

And for Michigan and the fans of Michigan, it will be back to worrying about the bigger rivalries and championships that life has to offer.

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