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Tuesday, September 01, 2009


The Wolverines are violating NCAA rules on voluntary workout limits!

Or...maybe not.

The Free Press report prompted a rare intervention in the sports world from a political pundit, The New Republic's Jonathan Chait. What Chait does to the Free Press sports editors is amusing, if fit for a slasher pic.

The key concept behind his allegations of rule-breaking is "involuntary." Players can work out as long as they want. It only breaks the rules if the players are being forced to work out beyond the allotted time. Rosenberg filled his article with quotes from Michigan players describing how hard they work. It's meaningless. It's as if he set out to expose an epidemic of rape, and came back with an article mainly describing the conjugal relations of happily married couples.

Now, the concept of "voluntary" is pretty hard to pin down. The Free Press would have done college athletes a great service by exploring whether it's actually possible for players to make voluntary decisions. After all, college coaches have enormous power over their players, and the players usually see the coach's desire as a command. When I played high school football twenty years ago, I did not consider offseason workouts to be voluntary. Neither did the players who, having missed such sessions, "decided" to stay after practice and run wind sprints until they puked.

A few years ago, USA Today did a good piece on offseason workouts in college, questioning whether such activities could truly be voluntary. The article quoted one Georgia football player scoffing at the notion. ("It's mandatory to us," he confessed.) But that sort of comprehensive approach didn't advance Rosenberg's goal.

Rosenberg made only a farcical effort to compare Michigan's program to that run elsewhere. He solicited a few on-the-record quotes from former Michigan State players, who told him with a straight face that no, sir, we only condition for an hour or two a day. Maybe this claim is worth verifying.

Now, I'm no Bob Woodward. But I did manage to dig up an obscure source confirming that Michigan State football players work just as hard as the Wolverines. My secret source is a publication called the Detroit News. It printed an article on July 29, 2008, reporting:

MSU says it has a strong weight coach, too
Dave Dye
The Detroit News

Much has been made about the intense workouts at Michigan under Mike Barwis, the new strength and conditioning coach.

The Michigan State Spartans would like everyone to know they're working pretty hard, too.

"I don't think they're working harder than us anyway," MSU running back Javon Ringer said. "I'm pretty sure they're working tremendously hard, but the things we go through with our weight-training coach -- coach (Ken) Mannie -- are unbelievable."

Big Ten players know each other pretty well - especially players from the same state, who often share hometowns. I think they probably have a good sense of how often they work out.

Read the whole thing, and the links at Mgoblog. Sure, I'm only slightly more objective toward Wolverines football than I am toward Maddie, Dale, Rachel and Louis. But that still makes me more objective than the Free Press story.

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