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University of Michigan football game
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

In 1895, the presidents of seven Midwestern universities met at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago to form what we now call the Big Ten. They created the world’s first school-based sports organization, predating even the NCAA. 

Soon the rest of the country’s colleges and high schools followed suit, forming their own leagues based on the Big Ten model. 

User Yusuke Toyoda / Wikimedia Commons

What happens at the intersection of college athletics and college academics? 

To what degree are student athletes allowed to get by with a lighter academic load, enabling them to play the games that are such moneymakers for the school and the NCAA?

That question is being asked more frequently today, often to the great discomfort of those who run colleges and universities, and their athletic programs.

To talk about the student-athlete double standard, we welcomed Paul Barrett of Bloomberg Businessweek. His recent piece is titled, "In Fake Classes Scandal, UNC Fails Its Athletes – and Whistle-blower."  

Listen to the full interview above. 

Steve Johnson / Flickr

The Madness of March has officially commenced, bringing along its usual mix of bracket trash talk, early upsets, and billion-dollar promises.

And, of course, mascots.

For Michigan fans, March Madness has brought out our usual suspects: the Wolverines, the Spartans, and, for a fleeting moment, the Broncos.

And while many (including the president) think that the Great Lakes State has some winning teams, on a mascot level, we sure don’t compete.

The St. Louis Billikens? The Tulsa Golden Hurricane? And what in the name of all things sports is a Bearcat?

So here it is, in all its glory — a glimpse of some of the mascot heroes of this year’s  March Madness.

How a vaguely scary good-luck charm became a fifth-seeded mascot

There's money to be made around the passion for Michigan football at Michigan Stadium.
Anthony Gattine / Flickr

I’ve often joked that some Michigan football fans aren’t happy unless they’re not happy.  But after 11 games this season, even they could be excused for having plenty to be unhappy about. A week ago, the Wolverines were 3-and-4 in the Big Ten, with undefeated Ohio State coming up next. 

The Wolverines had been surprisingly bad all season -- until the Ohio State game, when they were suddenly, surprisingly good, falling short by just one point in the final minute.  It was the first time I have ever seen Michigan fans feeling better after a loss than before it. 

Still, the heroic performance was bittersweet.

Where was that team all year?  Which team will return next year – the one that got crushed by Michigan State, or the one that almost beat the Buckeyes?

But Michigan’s bigger problems are off the field, not on it.

University of Michigan football game
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said last week that football and basketball might work better if they had minor leagues, so players who didn’t want to attend college had somewhere else to go.    

I came to the same conclusion several years ago, though for different reasons.  Most of the problems with college football and basketball can be traced back to their beginnings.  Unlike most sports, football and basketball developed on college campuses.  When the NFL and NBA opened decades later, they didn’t have to start their own minor leagues, they simply used the college teams to develop their players. 

user AndrewHorne / Wikimedia

For decades, students at Michigan games were assigned seats, with the seniors getting the best ones. But for some games last year, a quarter of the 20,000 or so people in the student section were no-shows.

So, athletic director Dave Brandon decided to switch them to general admission – first come, first seated -- to get them to show up on time -or, at all.

The students went ballistic.

Yes, some can display a breathtaking sense of entitlement, and they won’t get much sympathy from the average fan, who has to pay three or four-times more.

MGOBLUE.COM

There will be one Michigan team playing in the Final Four in next weekend’s NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament. 

The Michigan Wolverines jumped to a double digit lead early in their Elite Eight game against the Florida Gators on Sunday. And they never relinquished their lead. The final score was 79 to 59. 

Michigan is the only Big Ten team to reach the Final Four. Michigan State and Ohio State both lost tournament games over the weekend.

U of M will play the Syracuse Orangemen in one of next Saturday’s national semi-finals in Atlanta.  

Avanash Kunnath / Flickr

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

It so happened the Buckeyes had a basketball game that night against Michigan, so it was a good time 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 Cooper’s teams lost to Michigan an inexcusable 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, when 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 nuts. “At last,” they said, “somebody gets it!”

The University of Michigan men's hockey team fell in overtime to Minnesota-Duluth in last night's NCAA championship game.  The Associated Press reports: 

The Michigan Wolverines crushed the Tennessee Volunteers in their opening round game in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.   The game was close at halftime.   But U of M cruised in the second half to a 75-45 victory.   

The Wolverines will play Sunday against the winner of the matchup between 16th seeded Hampton and  top seeded Duke.   

U of M is the only team with Michigan ties making to the second round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.   Michigan State lost it's first round game Thursday night.   Oakland University lost a close game earlier this afternoon.    

Oakland University's Golden Grizzlies kept it close.  But, in the end, the Texas Longhorns prevailed.  The 13th  seeded Golden Grizzlies rallied throughout the first round tournament matchup with the 4th seeded Longhorns.   However, Texas pulled away in the final minute to win 85 to 81. 

 

House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says NCAA basketball teams that are not on track to graduate at least half of their players should not be allowed to compete in the NCAA Tournament.

Duncan used to play basketball himself. He says his personal experience is what is driving his call for the measures.

Duncan wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post:

As a kid on the South Side of Chicago who loved basketball, I got to see the best and the worst of college sports. I spent time on the court with inner-city players who had been used and dumped by their universities. When the ball stopped bouncing, they struggled to find work and had difficult lives. Some died early. The dividing line for success was between those who went to college and got their degrees, and those who did not. If a team fails to graduate even half of its players, how serious are the institution and coach about preparing their student-athletes for life?

Duncan wrote that 10 men's teams in the NCAA basketball tournament are not on track to graduate more than half their players.

The Michigan State Spartans tip off their 2011 NCAA Men’s basketball tourney tonight in Tampa against the UCLA Bruins.    The tenth seeded Spartans stumbled into the tourney compiling a 19 win-14 loss season.   The seventh seeded Bruins posted a slightly better 22 and 10 record. 

user johntex / wikimedia commons

It looks like Jim Tressel has gotten himself into a bit of hot water.

That’s why his boss, athletic director Gene Smith, flew back to make sure everyone said they were “taking responsibility” – a phrase which changed some time in the last decade, and now means the exact opposite.

It was fine theater.  

(Ohio State University athletic dept.)

Ohio State University head football coach Jim Tressel is facing a two game suspension and a quarter million dollar fine for failing to tell university officials about possible NCAA rules violations. 

Tressel admitted that he didn’t tell university officials that some of his players were part of a federal criminal investigation.  None of the players were the subject of the investigation. Tressel knew about the investigation last April.  But, he didn’t say anything until the university was contacted by the U.S. Justice Department in December.

The Justice Department was trying to confirm whether Buckeye memorabilia in the possession of a Columbus tattoo shop owner was obtained legally. Several players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, admitted exchanging the memorabilia for tattoos. The players were given 5 game suspensions next season. Though, they were allowed to play in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.

OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith says it was only after that that university officials learned of emails that coach Tressel received in April informing him of the federal probe. Smith says the university was about to complete its internal investigation and send the results to the NCAA, when word of Tressel’s actions were reported by Yahoo Sports.

Tressel says his decision not to take action back in April was with the players’ interest in mind, not the OSU football program. SBNATION produced a transcript of last night's news conference.

The NCAA is reviewing Ohio State’s self-imposed penalties. The college sports governing body may accept OSU’s self-punishment or impose penalties of its own.

Update 7:03 p.m.

Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel suspended for two games. Tressel did not report potential NCAA rules violates in a timely manner to OSU officials.

Original post 4:24 p.m.

Ohio State University has called a 7pm news conference to address news reports that head football coach Jim Tressel was aware of potential NCAA rules violations months before university officials learned about them.

The violations involved five Buckeye players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The players allegedly traded memorabilia with a Columbus tattoo parlor owner in exchange for tattoos.

Yahoo Sports reported this week that Tressel was first notified of the possible NCAA violations last April.  

But it was December before any action was taken involving the players. They were suspended from playing during a handful of games next fall. Though they were allowed to play in 2011 Sugar Bowl.  

SBNATION reports Tressel's contract does include penalties if his program commits NCAA violations, including termination of his contract. Neither Tressel or university officials have commented on the allegations made in the Yahoo Sports article.  

OSU president E. Gordon Gee did tell reporters in Columbus that the NCAA has been notified.

OSU athletic director Gene Smith was scheduled to be in Indianapolis this evening, but he has flown back to Columbus to take part in tonight's news conference with Gee and Tressel.

Former Michigan head football coach, Rich Rodriguez, just issued this statement:

"I am proud of the dedication and commitment exhibited by the coaching staff and student-athletes who have represented the University of Michigan football program over the last three seasons.  While I am disappointed to depart Ann Arbor before we were able to reach the level of success we had in our sights, I am confident that the players who remain have the potential to do great things and to return the Wolverines to greatness.  I would like to thank our fans and our student body for their tremendous support. There is great passion for Michigan football and I have made lifelong friends through this experience."

University of Michigan football game
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Update 4:15pm: Here's the University of Michigan's response to the NCAA's announcement. Athletic Director David Brandon says 

"There were no surprises and there will be no appeal, because there is nothing to appeal. Effective today, this process is over and done and we can focus all of our time and energy on the future."