Notebook: Allegations Against Hockey Program Disappointing and Totally Unsurprising
Also: Tonight's huge WBB game against Indiana, MBB's ugly loss to MSU, Michigan's unbalanced NIL offerings.
In Shocking Development, Michigan Still Has a Sexual Misconduct Problem
The fourth-ranked Michigan hockey squad swept Wisconsin this weekend despite missing two top-five picks to Olympic team obligations. The Wolverines sit along atop a strong Big Ten.
They’re a program in turmoil. A report from MLive overshadowed what happened on the ice. The university is — once again — retaining the services of law firm WilmerHale, this time to investigate allegations of a toxic work environment, covering up COVID-19 cases, and a staffer knowing about the abuse committed by Robert Anderson, among other things, after a formal complaint was filed with the Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX office.
The accusations summarized in [WilmerHale general counsel Bruce] Berman’s letter include:
Head coach Mel Pearson “instructing students to lie on their COVID-19 tracing forms.”
Pearson and Director of Hockey Operations Rick Bancroft discriminating against female staffers and “creating a toxic work environment for female support staff.”
Pearson retaliating against a student athlete for “raising concerns” about the hockey team’s culture.
Bancroft knowing about sexual misconduct committed by the late athletic doctor Robert Anderson.
A former employee of the athletic department provided the letter to to MLive/The Ann Arbor News.
If you recall, Michigan was forced to withdraw from last year’s NCAA Tournament because of COVID-19 cases in the program. Pearson was not pleased by the ruling:
After last year’s cancellation, Pearson said he was “devastated for his players” and that the decision to force his team to withdraw was an “unfortunate” one.
“I don’t completely understand the final decision but I have to respect it,” he said in a statement at the time.
The MLive report is light on other detail; we’ll probably have to wait for WilmerHale to complete their investigation to get those. From what I’ve seen and heard, Pearson and the program aren’t going to come out of this looking good at all.
I’ve said this on at least one recent podcast: the university’s leadership sets the tone for the school. The school’s public response to the Anderson scandal has been disappointing at best; statements from powerful individuals within and associated with the school have been awful. The outgoing school president oversaw several botched sexual misconduct investigations while carrying on an affair over university email and didn’t get fired until he became a financial liability.
Pearson has already been caught lying about manipulating COVID policy to favor his team. He advocated behind the scenes to get this year’s Great Lakes Invitational off the schedule, incidentally as Michigan would be shorthanded due to the World Junior Championships, then said only medical personnel were behind the eventual cancelation of the Western Michigan game.
If the allegations against the hockey program are true, the only path forward is to fire Pearson and the other staffers involved. Any one of the primary allegations would be fireable on their own. Together they paint an awful picture of the program’s environment, which is evidently too toxic for at least one of the athletes.
Putting aside the COVID stuff, which is a BIG FUCKING DEAL, the school’s leadership can choose to show zero tolerance towards sexism, misogyny, and sexual misconduct, or they can continue to show they actually do tolerate it. The success of the program on the ice cannot factor into the response. It seems it’s already been prioritized above both health and decency.
MBB: The Defense is Not Fixed
After two straight blowout wins, a home squeaker against Northwestern raised some alarm. The Wildcats shot 50% on two-pointers and 8-for-17 from beyond the arc. The backcourt trio of Boo Buie, Chase Audige, and Ty Berry went 6-for-6 at the rim.
Saturday’s game at the Breslin Center was a three-alarm fire. Both in the halfcourt and on the fast break, Michigan couldn’t contain MSU’s guards, made frequent mental errors, and didn’t adjust nearly fast enough to keep them in the game. This is a great breakdown of what went wrong from Eric Shapiro:
Juwan Howard will take criticism for this one and it’s quite fair to question the approach. MSU’s point guards are poor midrange shooters, so dropping the center into the paint on pick-and-rolls seemed like the right play:
Dylan Burkhardt @umhoopsTransition defense is always key against MSU but Michigan's ability to play drop coverage and force MSU's PGs to be scorers is the big key in the halfcourt. Scoring in those spots is a weakness for both guards and it means that MSU's wings aren't getting catch and shoot looks. https://t.co/cx395lfp9F
Bringing Hunter Dickinson way out to hedge the screen opened up driving lanes for MSU’s PGs; AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker finished a combined 5-for-8 at the rim. The defensive pressure didn’t even accomplish its intended effect, as the gaffe-prone Hoggard tallied ten assists against a lone turnover.
MSU shot 9/18 on threes in large part because their ballhandlers kept splitting Michigan’s ball screen defense and drawing help from the corners, leaving shooters like Gabe Brown and Max Christie all alone.
Howard hasn’t had an easy task drawing up gameplans for a young team that doesn’t fit together in an ideal way. I’ve been inclined to take it easy on him as he’s tried some odd lineups and schemes. This bad game, though, felt more easily avoidable.
Where’s The “Maddie Nylon” Shirt?
Michigan recently announced they’d added basketball shirseys to their NIL collection, so I decided to check out the offerings at the M Den. This is what comes up for basketball:
By my count, there are 13 men’s basketball players on offer, including a walk-on (Jace Howard) and a freshman who’s taking a redshirt year (Will Tschetter). There are only two women’s hoopers, Naz Hillmon and Leigha Brown — evidently the bar there is “All Big-Ten” instead of “on the roster.”
This doesn’t make any sense to me. A Maddie Nolan shirt is going to sell better than a good deal of what’s available. I’ve seen a lot more of Amy Dilk, Emily Kiser, and Laila Phelia on TV than I have Isaiah Barnes.
The imbalance is an issue that extends beyond Michigan. Men are getting more NIL deals and getting paid more for those deals:
Male athletes in Division I reported more NIL deals than female athletes -- 59% of the total, according to data from July 1 through Dec. 31 from INFLCR. Its data is based on transactions that have been reported by athletes in the INFLCR system -- more than 70,000 across 200-plus schools.
Opendorse, meanwhile, found that Division I male athletes grabbed 67.4% of total NIL compensation compared with 32.6% of women through Dec. 31, citing data for some 55,000 athletes across more than 575 schools.
I know football is king. There’s no justification for having such a significant gap between programs in the same sport, though.
Michigan also has football and ice hockey shirseys available but nothing for softball or field hockey. This doesn’t seem hard. It’d be nice to see the athletic department make the minimum effort to look like they care about equal opportunity, particularly in light of what else is happening at the university.
Instead, add it to the pile.
Tonight: Michigan vs. Indiana for the Big Ten Lead
After last week’s thumping of Ohio State, Michigan hosts Indiana with the top spot in the Big Ten on the line. The Wolverines are #6 in this week’s AP Poll, Indiana #5; they’re flipped in Chantel Jennings’ top 25 at The Athletic.
While that makes it sound close, the absence of IU star center Mackenzie Holmes until the postseason is a huge hit, and there’s no telling how the Hoosiers will play coming off a two-week layoff due to COVID protocols. Chantel said this, not me:
In the Wolverines‘ three games against ranked conference opponents this season, they’ve come away with three wins and an average margin of victory of 19 points. Against Indiana? I’m expecting a similar result. If the Hoosiers were at full strength, it’d be a different story. I still believe Teri Moren’s team will come in with an aggressive game plan, but without Holmes in the middle, I’m not sure how consistently the Hoosiers can stop or slow Naz Hillmon.
The Hoosiers have been playing, essentially, a six-player rotation without Holmes. That’s going to be difficult to maintain with Hillmon wreaking havoc on the interior.
The game tips off tonight at 7 pm on ESPN2. You need a good excuse not to tune in.
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