Glass Houses

By Patrick Vint on February 1, 2018 at 11:28 am
Self-reflection is always healthy.
original images: © Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports (Ferentz), © Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports (Dantonio)

The only person on Twitter who has had more fun than me cracking jokes about Mark Dantonio's disciplinary record over the last decade is mGoBlog's Brian Cook.  It helps to have to share a state with The Dean of No-Discipline, I suppose, but for anyone watching Sparty since the late-aughts, the now-resurfaced concerns over Spartan football players avoiding any disciplinary action for violent crime and legitimate jail time is not exactly a surprise.

But here's where Brian remains better at this blogging thing than me: Rather than mercilessly attacking Michigan State, mGoBlog turned itself inward for a bit of self-examination yesterday, just to make sure the same problems weren't obvious in Ann Arbor.  Brian breaks it down like so:

To me, there are four major components that lead to something as callous as Michigan State's athletic department: a commitment to secrecy, an incestuous power structure, leaders who don't care about anything but the bottom line, and the ability to subvert outside checks on your behavior.

If you would like a comprehensive list of Sparty's real and alleged crimes during the Dantonio and Izzo regimes, and a fairly comprehensive look at Michigan in the Era of Harbaugh, it's a great read.  I'm not going to be as thorough as Brian, but here's a brief look at Iowa athletics under the same rubric.

A Commitment to Secrecy

Given what happened this week with the Fran McCaffery extension, it's safe to say that a prima facie case of secrecy-lovin' is available against Iowa Athletics; I won't rehash the details from yesterday's post, but they exist, and they're beyond argument. 

Furthermore, while Brian takes Michigan to task for their email retention policy, Iowa has taken FOIA avoidance one step further and just stopped emailing pretty much everything.  The athletic department's failure to document even the simplest things through correspondence was an entire defense in the Meyer trial and became a huge problem when they were unable to document why Meyer deserved an effective demotion.

But here's the biggest distinction between Iowa and Michigan State: While Iowa is certainly committed to secrecy, Gary Barta and his staff are equally terrible at secrecy.  Going all the way back to Barta's first scandal, the Everson/Satterfield matter (which will figure prominently here), Iowa has shown a total inability to keep a secret, no matter how hard it collectively tries.  Peter Gray got out eventually.  So did the Griesbaum firing and Meyer transfer, the rhabdo epidemic, the DRUGS? non-scandal in late 2010, and the McCaffery extension.  There are simply too many good reporters around the program with nothing better to do than FOIA the hell out of them a few times a year, and Iowa's FOIA office, to its undying credit, truly appears to adhere to the letter and spirit of the law in almost all circumstances (which is why Iowa stopped putting anything in writing, essentially).

There is the old adage that a government can never keep a secret for long because there are too many people who know how to talk.  That's Iowa; they might well want to keep secrets from everyone, but they're incapable of actually doing that.  That's a good thing.

Incestuous Power Structure

Before we get further: While Kirk Ferentz does indeed run the athletic department to the extent he wants, we're not talking about that power structure.  We're talking regents and university executives, and on that front, we're doing a lot better than Michigan State.

The separation of the regents from the University of Iowa stems from the regent setup itself: While Michigan and MSU have their own sets of regents/trustees (with, in Michigan State's case, most of them coming from obvious MSU-heavy backgrounds), the Iowa regents cover all three state universities.  That makes blind alumni/booster loyalty far less important to the position.

The current president of the Board of Regents is a two-time Iowa graduate and the President Pro Tem also has an Iowa degree, but neither are obvious names to Hawkeye fans in the way that "putting the son of the guy the basketball arena is named after on the board" is at Michigan State.  The remainder of the regents are either outright ISU/UNI-aligned or a mixture of Iowa and another school.

As for the university president, while there are plenty of things that can be said about Bruce Harreld's performance in the last three years, I'm not certain he had ever been in Iowa before he was offered the job  His loyalty goes as far as the regents want it to go.

Iowa gives too much power to its prominent coaches, particularly by giving them repeated renewals of gigantic contract buyouts that provide near-complete job security.  But that doesn't mean there's an incestuous power structure that will defend the university at all costs.  And that's the true concern.

Leaders Who Only Care About the Bottom Line

This flips the last examination on its head.  Yes, Harreld is obviously here to maximize the for-profit portions of the UI, particularly the hospital and athletics.  Yes, Gary Barta never met a dollar he wouldn't take from your pocket, and he is obviously willing to give up things like "arena atmosphere" if it gets him more of it.  But Harreld and Barta aren't the subject of this portion of the inquiry (we've already covered them enough).  Rather, let's look at Kirk Ferentz and Fran McCaffery, and their response to disciplinary issues.

There was a time, roughly fifteen years ago, when Ferentz's teams would regularly rack up a handful of arrests during a given summer.  They were mostly non-violent, and they were met with a shrug.  But Iowa football's arrest record became a topic of conversation just as soon as the records went south in 2006-07, which seemed to justifiably bother Ferentz. 

More importantly, Ferentz faced his biggest existential threat from the athletic department's handling of the Everson/Satterfield investigation in 2007-08.  It's lost to history now, but Iowa's handling of sexual assault allegations against two football players nearly cost everyone -- Ferentz, Barta, the university president -- their jobs back then and would almost certainly trigger an MSU-like housecleaning now. 

To his absolute credit, Ferentz changed in the aftermath. Iowa's recruiting became heavily based on character traits, and discipline became harsher.  In the decade since, Ferentz has tossed players for two offenses, no matter how minor (the only exception I can remember was his son, James, and one of those was "being in a car in University Heights after dark.")  The only single police incident that wasn't disciplined was Adrian Clayborn's run-in with a cabbie; Ferentz let it go when it came out that the cabbie basically had it coming. 

Otherwise, if there's a criticism of Ferentz's disciplinary record, it's that he's occasionally a tad too harsh.  For instance, Adam Robinson was kicked off the team for little more than a bad round of midterms and being picked up in a friend's car with a pipe in the armrest while serving a bowl game suspension.  Dantonio wouldn't even make that guy run laps.  Same goes for Marcus Coker, who was suspended indefinitely on a sexual assault allegation that was rescinded by the accuser and eventually transferred, and De'Andre Johnson, who was booted for two small and sorta-hilarious infractions over three days in 2012.  By comparison, Dantonio didn't even suspend a guy who got seven driving-while-suspended citations.  SEVEN.

McCaffery had his own early incident, when he took the slings and arrows that came with recruit Anthony Hubbard, a 25-year-old who had done four years in prison for a home robbery, only for Hubbard to fail to meet internal benchmarks and leave the program before ever playing a game.  Since then, the biggest disciplinary scandal was likely Peter Jok's two driving-while-suspended tickets on a moped.  Again, it reflects the recruiting philosophy and internal discipline of the program that there hasn't been more.

In the end, it's these guys (and the other coaches at Iowa) who matter most on this front.  You could stack the Iowa Board of Regents with the staff of this website, but that bias would only matter if the coaches would be willing to take whatever leniency was offered.  Similarly, all the nonpartisan leadership in the world can't stop a coach who looks the other way or pulls strings to get his guys out of trouble.  We can't know everything going on behind the scenes, but the key thing that Iowa appears to have and Michigan State lacked: Honorable coaches at the base disciplinary level who appear willing to do what is right, even if it costs their programs dearly.  For that, I will give every single one of those coaches and the guys who sign their checks my full appreciation and gratitude.  It doesn't take much for an athletic program to go the way of Michigan State.  Iowa hasn't done that, and when it's come close, it has found a way to pull itself away from the edge.

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