My Life as a Spartan

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I’ve been a Spartan for 21 years.

That’s not enough for some people.

I don’t hate Michigan as much as most Spartans.

That’s not enough for other people.

When a kid is growing up, it’s a pretty simple process for him to pick his sports teams – you go with the local team.  There are outliers.  Sometimes a guy likes a quarterback from another team, or a 40/40 guy from another.  Perhaps it’s as simple as they like a team’s colors or the team was good enough to be on the nationally televised game more times than others (hence the widespread fandom of teams like the Packers and Steelers).  But for the most part, if you’re born in Michigan you’re pulling for the Lions, and if you’re born in Philly your favorite team is the Flyers.

It’s a little more complicated when it comes to college sports.

College rivalries are what make sports great.  Pro sports have the occasional huge rivalries – Red Sox/Yankees, Bears/Packers, any combination of teams in the NHL’s old Adams division (Rangers, Bruins, Canadians, Flyers, etc.) – but none of these compare to such regional college rivalries such as Michigan/Ohio State, Duke/North Carolina, or Oklahoma/Texas.  Add in the fact that these teams play once or twice a year instead of 19 or 6, and in a lot of cases the games have national significance, and you’ll find that a lot of fans take far greater pride in their college teams than their pro ones.

The challenge comes in picking which team to pull for.  Typically, loyalties are passed down in families for generations, so if your dad grew up an Alabama fan, you’re not going to pull for Auburn.  But if you have no such loyalties (I imagine this is much more common in the north than in the south), you have to pick your own team.  And in picking that team, you’re essentially answering a simple question.

Which team is better?

It’s generally an easy answer.  Kansas has more fans than Kansas State, Texas over Texas A&M or Texas Tech, Oklahoma over Oklahoma State, etc.  And in Michigan, it’s a simple answer: Michigan trumps Michigan State.  Up until a recent string of success by the Spartans and struggles by the Wolverines, if your family didn’t have ties to Michigan State (typically because someone in that family went there), you were a Michigan fan.

So it was that I found myself pulling for Michigan from the time I was 11 until I went off to college at Michigan State.

During my first week at Michigan State, Michigan beat Virginia on a last-second touchdown.  Surprisingly, the dorm room where I and several of my dorm mates were watching the game erupted in celebration.  Clearly, some of us who had grown up as Michigan fans found ourselves going to school in East Lansing.  Personally, I went into the first Michigan-Michigan State fan as an MSU fan having no clue who I was going to be rooting for.  My mind was made up the minute Michigan came through that tunnel.  I was a Spartan.

That was in 1995, which means that I’m currently in my 22nd year of Michigan State fandom.  I’ve seen ups and downs.  I have stuck with them through thick and thin, and never questioned my loyalty to the school or its teams.

But to some, all that matters was that I started out a Michigan fan.

I don’t know how it works in other states, but I imagine it’s not much different than here.  Michigan fans spend the majority of their lives being the better team, and, as such, they spend a fair amount of time reminding Michigan State fans that they’re inferior.  Recently, Michigan State has had a run of success that coincided with a downturn at Michigan, and the trash talk script was flipped.  Now, when Michigan is back to “normal” and Michigan State is struggling, Michigan fans point out that Michigan State fans have stopped talking shit, as if our shit talk was somehow different than what we put up when Michigan was on top.

While the trash talk is fair – you don’t have much of a defense when your team is worse – Michigan State fans can and do respond with a simple question: when did you graduate?

And that’s where the problem lies.  In the vast majority of situations, the answer is equally as simple: they didn’t go there.

A while back, I was at a bar, and I listened as a man went on an extended rant about the fact that, because of their recent success, Michigan State has suddenly acquired a fair amount of “bandwagon” fans, that they weren’t legitimate fans, and that Michigan would be back.  I had to cut in.  I pointed out that MSU was currently riding 8 years of “bandwagon” fans, while Michigan had previously ridden 50.  He conceded the point.  I had to ask if he went there.  He hadn’t.

The fact is that if you pull for Michigan State, you probably went there.  That’s not the case with Michigan.  I’m guessing that in most rivalries, as in this one, the people who didn’t attend the Michigan are the people who are most prone to talk.  And to take it further, the people who are most prone are those who didn’t attend college at all.

Is that elitist?  Probably.

Is it true?  Definitely.

And yet the proverbial “Wal-Mart” fans aren’t the only ones who talk.

Michigan is a world-class educational institution.  Anyone who argues otherwise – no matter where they went to school – is an idiot.  But Michigan State, while not on the same level, has some top-notch programs, several quite literally ranked first in the nation.  Despite that fact, people here believe that if you were accepted at both Michigan and Michigan State, there is absolutely no reason you would attend Michigan State.

None.

Zero.

This is not hyperbole.  I have heard it said with my own ears, I have listened to the argument.  Ignore the cost, ignore whether or not a given program might be better at Michigan State than at Michigan, ignore whether you prefer Michigan State’s campus to Michigan’s.  If you get accepted to both schools, you have no reason to go to Michigan State.

It is that mindset that has many believing that if you go to Michigan State, it’s because you couldn’t get into Michigan.  I’ve heard it, I’ve had to fight it, and I’ve had to explain that I decided I didn’t want to go to a school that kept putting me on the waitlist and chose the one that wanted me.  But every Michigan graduate believes that Michigan State grads couldn’t get into their school, and thus was deserving of their derision.

My first year out of college, I worked at an accounting firm that sponsored recruiting events at local college campuses.  It was a great way to pump up your work hours and help your standing in the firm.  One of these recruiting events took place on the Michigan campus, and we encountered a kid who made a snide comment about Michigan State and then said, “I don’t really have a reason for looking down on Michigan State, I just do.”  My buddy looked at me thinking I was going to murder the kid.  I just smiled and nodded (also, I’m pretty dumb, but I’m smart enough to murder a potential hire).

That’s a learned response.  What’s the point in arguing with someone who looks down on you?

And yet it’s said we have an inferiority complex.

We’ve watched a Hall of Fame coach walk away after coaching the team to its best record in a decade and go on to win 5 national championships.

I’ve listened as a friend asked when we’d get fed up with our basketball coach failing to deliver another national title.  He’s in the Hall of Fame.  He’s taken our school to 19 consecutive tournaments, seven Final Fours and a national championship.  Apparently that’s not enough.

We’ve listened to announcers refer to the Spartans as “Michigan” at least once in every single game the Spartans have played.

We watched as our football coach went to a full-day on-air tour of ESPN and had his name mispronounced while answering repeated questions about our rival’s new coach.  Mark Dantonio – or Mark D’Antonio if you asked the Wall Street Journal – would lead the Spartans to the Big 10 title and the College Football Playoff, but all the network wanted to talk about was Jim Harbaugh.

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We’ve seen the coach named as “Mike” Dantonio on the cover of Sports Illustrated after he’d led the team to the College Football Playoff.

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We’ve seen Tom Izzo’s name listed as “Tim” on a headline announcing he’d been elected to the Hall of Fame.

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We’ve seen Denzel Valentine credited as “Denzel Washington” on an AP tweet announcing he was their national player of the year.

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We’ve watched as our school won ESPN’s college football play of the year, and had it presented to Mark Dantonio…and the Michigan fan whose stunned reaction was immortalized shortly after the play took place.

And yet we have an inferiority complex.

It has become somewhat common for Michigan State fans to post “Still a Spartan” on Facebook after losses.  I don’t know why.  It’s as though there’s some belief that after a tough loss we’re going to abandon our school, and we need to announce that we’re going to remain loyal.  As though now that we’ve approached the mountaintop we can’t handle a little bit of adversity.

We’ve lived through Bobby Williams.

We’ve lived through John L. Smith.

We’ve had to hear about Spartan Bob for 15 years.

We’ll survive 38-0.

We’ll survive Middle Tennessee State.

We will survive if we go from the College Football Playoff to missing a bowl game.

But the thing is, I don’t hate Michigan as much as other Michigan State fans.  Maybe it’s because I started out as a Michigan fan.  Maybe it’s because I want to see teams from our state succeed.  Maybe it’s because I don’t want to be the sort of person who roots against a given team.  I make an exception for pretty much any team from Ohio (hey, if you chant “Detroit’s bankrupt” when your team is losing to the Tigers, I want a lifetime of misery for your fanbase), but generally speaking, it strikes me as small.  Or maybe it’s because I have friends who are Michigan fans and I don’t want them to think I’m being petty.

Maybe I should want Michigan to lose.

Recently, I went to McDonald’s, who’s running a promotion where their cups have various Michigan slogans or references on them.  My cup read The Big House.  I sent a pic of the cup to a fellow Spartan who knows of my lack of disdain for the Wolverines.  His response?  “I thought you rooted for UM.”

I can’t win.

I don’t hate Michigan with every fiber of my being, and that’s not good enough for some people.  And I didn’t start out as a Spartan fan, so that’s not good enough for others.

But I’m still a Spartan, and I’ll always be one.  That’s good enough for me.

The Final Four of Coaching Hatred

A few weeks back I posted on Facebook something that is somewhat typical for me during NCAA tournament time: I asked who looked more like a rat, Bo Ryan or Mike Krzyzewski (or, as the post said, Mike Krzyzezwzszkzi).  Coming a few weeks after I expressed my happiness with the NCAA coming down hard on Syracuse and Jim Boeheim, while calling Boeheim a dick, my dad asked me why I hated so many coaches.  It’s a fair question.  And so today I provide you with that breakdown.

It should be noted that I rank college coaches on par with pro sports owners.  I don’t particularly think they’re great people, no matter who they are.  They’re making a ridiculous amount of money largely on the backs of poor minority kids who don’t get paid for their services and have almost no choice as to where to ply their trade.  I’m not going to get too deep into my philosophical issues with the college sports system, but I don’t think any of the coaches are particularly stellar individuals.

I also think most teams cheat.  The good ones are either not stupid enough to get caught, or don’t piss off any former players to the extent that he’s willing to rat out the team.

Now that that’s out of the way, if anyone reads this post and doesn’t know me (ha!), it must be stated that I’m a die-hard Michigan State Spartan, so while others would undoubtedly have the great Tom Izzo on this list, it should come as no surprise that you won’t see him here.  In the interest of fairness – which is stupid since it’s my blog – I asked if a friend wanted to write something up on why he hates Izzo.  A fairly rabid Michigan fan, he said he didn’t hate Izzo, but that he was generally annoyed with all his whining, comparing Izzo to his 3-year-old.  So while I’m sure plenty of Michigan fans loathe Izzo (jealousy is so unattractive), generally speaking Izzo’s just like everyone’s 3-year-old kid.

Honorable Mention:

Bob Knight, Indiana/Texas Tech

Look, you can’t have a list detailing all the college basketball coaches you hate and not include Bob Knight.  The guy’s an arrogant asshole who had complete contempt for everyone in the media, and then he became a member of the media (sorry guys, if you get paid to talk about sports and you’re not employed by one of the teams/schools/leagues, you’re a part of the media).  While a part of the media, he was the same arrogant asshole he always was.

The thing is, as I got older, I started to realize that Knight wasn’t really all that bad.  He ran a clean program, he graduated his players and he won.  He had a hard-nosed style that didn’t jibe with today’s standards and probably wasn’t the way John Wooden coached UCLA, but the fact is that few of his players had an issue with him.  He was ousted from Indiana because he got caught on film putting his hands on a player’s throat and then reacting like, well, an arrogant asshole when a student said, “Hey Coach!” to him on campus.

Fuck Bobby Knight, but not as much as I used to think.

Bobby Hurley, Buffalo

I know almost nothing about Bobby Hurley as a coach, aside from the fact that he coached Buffalo to the NCAA tournament this year.  Still, he’s a Krzyzewski protegé and one of the most hated players in college basketball history.

Fuck Bobby Hurley on principle alone.

Bob Huggins, Cincinnati/Kansas State/West Virginia

If Mitch Albom’s book “Fab Five” is to be believed (and there’s plenty of reason it’s not), during warm ups before the 1992 NCAA semifinal between Michigan and Huggins’s Cincinnati team, during some back-and-forth trash talking between Cincinnati’s players and Michigan’s Fab Five freshman, one of the Fab Five told a couple of Cincinnati’s players that he wanted them to go write a paper about how bad they suck.  It was a classic exchange, one that had me laughing out loud when reading it.  Damn Mitch Albom could write.  Too bad he became such an embarrassing hack.

The irony is that there’s a pretty good chance the Cincinnati players wouldn’t be able to write a paper if they weren’t allowed to use crayon.

Huggins was the first guy I remember that operated a team on a culture of lawlessness and academic inferiority.  There have been many before and since, but none that were actually fired because his teams were academically inferior.  Seriously.  Cincinnati had won 10 regular season championships, gone to two Elite 8’s and a Final Four, and all of this came after the school had not been to the NCAA tournament in the 12 years prior to Huggins’s arrival.  And still Cincinnati’s president said, “I’m tired of having players getting arrested and graduating at a 30% rate, so you’re fired.”  Good for her.

Not that Michigan State is on par with the Harvards and Stanfords – or even the Michigans and North Carolinas – of the educational world, but Huggins has chosen to coach at schools where he can get away with recruiting players who will never succeed in the classroom in the hopes of winning a few more games.  Seriously, my cat could get into West Virginia, and he can barely read.

Fuck Bob Huggins, although I’d probably have to use Hooked on Phonics for his players to understand those 3 words.

Elite 8:

John Calipari, Massachusetts/Memphis/Kentucky

I should hate Calipari as much as everyone else does.  He’s taken 2 schools – Massachusetts and Memphis – to the Final Four, only to see those accomplishments wiped out of the record books because Marcus Camby took money and Derrick Rose had someone else take his SAT’s for him.  Calipari wasn’t implicated in either situation, but this falls under the classic case of where there’s smoke there’s fire.  If Kentucky were to have to vacate some or all of their accomplishments under Calipari it would surprise exactly no one.

And today everyone hates him because he’s won one title and is likely about to win another on the backs of players who have no intention of ever graduating from school.

On that last point – a point that likely extends to the Derrick Rose case – Calipari is taking advantage of a stupid rule the NBA implemented that said no one can enter the league until they’re at least 19 and have been out of high school for at least one year (we can go into the stupidity of that at another point).  Those kids are going to go to school somewhere, Calipari just decided to round up as many of them as possible.  And he’s honest about it.  He’s winning with guys who should be in the NBA if the league weren’t borderline racist trying to keep minority kids in their place.  If it comes out that he’s been cheating with these guys at Kentucky I’ll change my tune, but I’m generally ok with what he’s doing.

Don’t fuck Calipari, fuck the stupid NBA rule that he exploits.

Rick Pitino, Kentucky/Louisville

Pitino’s a lot like Calipari.  He’s smarmy, he dresses like a gangster, he brings up 9/11 almost as much as Rudy Giuliani does (his brother-in-law was killed in the attacks) and he says things that would likely get others in more trouble.  True story: earlier this season Pitino’s Louisville team blew out an inferior opponent early in the season.  In Pitino’s post-game presser, he said that he didn’t want the game to be such a blow out, proclaiming that he had four white guys and an Egyptian in the game at the end.  If that thing is flipped on its head, Pitino’s fired in a day.

Also, including Pitino on this list allows me to tell this hysterical story.  A few years back, Pitino was involved in a nasty little affair that saw him impregnating a woman during a restaurant tryst (he’s married, so I guess that serves as a decent reason not to like the guy), paying for her abortion and then watching as his assistant coach married her.  She eventually tried to extort him and was brought up on charges.  During the trial, Pitino was asked how long he and the woman had had sex.  His response?  15 seconds.  It was the first time I could imagine a judge would’ve been ok with perjury.

Fuck Rick Pitino.  It won’t take you that long.

Bill Self, Kansas

Kansas always destroys my brackets.  If I pick them in the Final Four, they lose in the first round.  If I pick them to lose in the first round, they go to the Final Four (ironically, Michigan State is in the process of assuming that “mantle”).  I hate Kansas for that reason alone.

But lately Kansas is a team that goes out fairly routinely in the first weekend, yet they’re still treated as basketball royalty.  They’ve won 2 titles since the Wilt Chamberlain era, one of them on the backs of Danny Manning and the other because John Calipari’s Memphis team couldn’t hit free throws.  The entire program is a fraud.

Fuck Bill Self for his association with an overrated program.

Tom Crean, Marquette/Indiana

Tom Crean is the very picture of what terrifies Michigan State grads.  Unlike Dean Smith at North Carolina, who has a pretty impressive coaching tree behind him, Tom Izzo’s assistants haven’t gone on to much success as head coaches themselves.  There’s a general concern about what will happen to the program should Izzo take a better gig or retire.  Crean was seen as a worthy heir.  He took Marquette to the Final Four, making Dwyane Wade a star in the process.  He moved on to Indiana, where he was expected to bring a once-proud program back to national prominence.  Short of a buzzer-beater against a Kentucky team that would go on to win the national championship, he’s done nothing.

Plus, he looks like a serial killer.

Fuck Tom Crean.  Just try to make sure he doesn’t take your skin afterwards.

Final Four:

Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

I’ll make it clear: I don’t hate Bo Ryan (well, aside from the fact that he looks like a rodent in the mafia).  Tom Izzo’s the best coach in the Big 10 – as I said I’m biased, but if you even try to argue that you’re probably an idiot – but Ryan’s clearly the second best.  It’s not really that close.  Thad Matta at Ohio State and John Beilein at Michigan are great coaches in their own right, but Ryan’s clearly one of the best coaches in the nation.  He’s done at Wisconsin what Izzo has done at Michigan State.

No, what I hate about Bo Ryan is the myriad of Wisconsin fans who will have you believe that Bo Ryan IS the best coach in the Big 10.  They’ll trumpet his Big 10 titles – no insignificant achievement, admittedly – and his 4 national titles in Division III.  And this happened before he went to the last 2 Final Fours!  Sorry, I don’t care about conference titles and I REALLY don’t care about what anyone does in Division III.  Talk to me about national championships and Final Fours.  Ryan has no titles to Izzo’s one and 2 Final Fours to Izzo’s 7.  Sorry Wisconsin, he’s got a long way to go to be in the discussion.

Fuck Bo Ryan.  I’m sure there are plenty of people in Wisconsin who will volunteer.

Roy Williams, Kansas/North Carolina

Exhibit 1: see Bill Self

Exhibit 2: Roy Williams is riding on the coattails of Dean Smith’s legacy.  Smith built UNC into a power program whose name says it all.  Being recruited by North Carolina in basketball is like being recruited by Alabama in football.  Unlike Nick Saban though, North Carolina has never been in the shitter (no matter what you think about the Matt Doherty era) and never had to build themselves up from probation and postseason bans.  Although they should.

It’s recently come out that North Carolina engaged in one of the biggest cases of academic fraud in the history of college sports.  Academic advisers wrote papers and players were steered to no-show classes.  It’s so bad that players are suing North Carolina and the NCAA for providing an inadequate education.  When asked about the academic situation, Roy Williams said, “It’s not my job to see that my players are getting an education.  My job is to coach the basketball team.”  To be fair, the NCAA agrees; in their response to the lawsuit, they’ve indicated the NCAA has no responsibility to provide their athletes an education.  Think of that next time you year the term “student-athlete”.

But back to Williams.  We’re supposed to believe that the academic advisers to the athletic department committed massive institutional academic fraud to keep its players eligible and that the basketball coach had nothing to do with it?

Fuck Roy Williams on the bridge in Brooklyn he’s got to sell you.

Championship Game:

Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

Jim Boeheim’s a dick.  There’s not even a joke there.  He’s an epic, world-class asshole.  If he were a cop he’d be the prick who went on a tirade against an Indian Uber driver in New York this week.  Add in his college basketball dictatorship and it’s there for all to see.

In 2014 Tyler Ennis decided he was going pro after his freshman year.  Boeheim wanted Ennis to continue playing for free at Syracuse, so he said Ennis shouldn’t go pro while proclaiming that half of the first-round draft picks in the NBA are out of the league in 3 years, a blatant falsehood.  He’s already declared, he’s not coming back no matter how much shit you talk about him, so why not talk up your guy and see if he can get drafted higher?  Nope, Boeheim talked shit about how hard it would be for a point guard to transition to the NBA and negatively compared him to another Syracuse player who’d left early a few years early.

Then Syracuse gets nailed for academic misconduct, improper booster activity and failure to adhere to its own drug testing policy, and Boeheim himself was called out for a failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance.  This was after Syracuse had already voluntarily declared themselves ineligible for this year’s NCAA tournament.  Syracuse was placed on probation, lost scholarships, and Boeheim was suspended for 9 games in the 2015-16 season.  And how does this prick respond?  He holds a press conference on the morning the NCAA tournament started, acted defiant and announced he would appeal the sanctions.  Nice way to bring the attention to yourself.

Fuck Jim Boeheim.  Fuck him like a prison bitch.  That’s not even a joke.  Fuck him hard.

This was a tight championship fight.  Think of Boeheim’s press conference as Gordan Hayward’s half-court shot in the 2010 title game that would’ve upset the eventual champion.  The same champion we see here.  There’s simply no topping…

National Champion:

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke

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I hate Mike Krzyzewski.  If I were to create my Mount Rushmore of sporting hatred, it would probably consist of Roger Goodell, Krzyzewski, Matt Millen, and Patrick Roy.  God I hate Krzyzewski.

Calipari gets all the crap for his one-and-done approach.  But let me throw out a few names.  Corey Maggette.  Kyrie Irving.  Luol Deng.  Austin Rivers.  Jabari Parker.  Jahlil Okafor (trust me, he’s not staying beyond this year).  This doesn’t include William Avery (more on him in a minute), Elton Brand or Jason Williams, who didn’t go after one year, but did leave early.  And yet assistant coach Jeff Capel came out and said, “Well, we’re not recruiting an entire class of one-and-dones.”  Arrogant fucks.

Back to William Avery.  Duke had one of its best teams in the 1998-99 season, entering the tournament with one loss.  But they lost in the championship game to Connecticut.  Everyone knew Elton Brand was gone.  Maggette and Avery were more of a surprise.  How did Krzyzewski respond?  He called Avery’s mother and exclaimed that her son was ruining his team.

This wasn’t even the biggest asshole move of his career.  Early in his career, a writer for the Duke student paper wrote a column discussing how the team wasn’t living up to expectations.  Krzyzewski brought the student writer into the locker room and loudly and angrily berated him in front of the team.  Even the players thought it was over the top.

Earlier this year, Duke kicked a player off its team for the first time in history.  Rasheed Sulaimon was dismissed for unknown reasons, but more than a year prior he had been accused of sexually assaulting 2 female students.  Think that’s a problem?  It gets worse.  Duke’s athletic department was made aware of the allegations in March 2014, and they violated federal law by not reporting them.  Think that happens without Krzyzewski’s knowledge?  You probably also believe there’s nothing Joe Paterno could’ve done to help those kids.

Krzyzewski is probably the best coach in college basketball history.  You can talk about John Wooden and his 10 national titles, but the game was easier that day and I could’ve won 7 titles in a row if I had Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton on my college teams.  It doesn’t make him the saint that Dick Vitale would have you believe.  He’s also coaching for a fan base who thinks the only black people who should be on campus are the ones on the basketball team.

Fuck Mike Krzyzewski.  You and your entire racist school.

There you have it folks.  Think my reasoning is irrational?  Got any other suggestions?  That’s fine, feel free to comment below.