Though many people feel otherwise, I’ve always found the Maize Rage hard not to like. Now, they aren’t as clever as they think they are, and aren’t as raucous as a lot of others schools’ student sections, but at least they’re not waiting for the team to become good before they lend their support. Especially because . well . that might take a while.
But after the Big Ten Tournament, my respect for the Maize Rage has turned into sympathy. It’s become abundantly clear that having a successful basketball team isn’t important to the athletic department, and, unless that changes, nothing that any of the Ragers do will matter one bit.
Since the Wolverines’ loss to Minnesota in the first round, many have put the blame on head coach Tommy Amaker and gone to Athletic Director Bill Martin to find out where things stand.
And Martin’s answers are simply baffling.
“Tommy has done an outstanding job,” Martin told The New York Times a week ago. “I told him to build a program, not a team. He’s the right fit for the team.”
Then, when asked whether Amaker was under pressure to reach the NCAA Tournament, Martin replied, “Absolutely not.”
Now, it would be debatable but understandable if Martin were to say that Amaker is going nowhere and that he was confident Amaker was the right coach to lead the program. But instead, Martin is either in denial or simply doesn’t care that the basketball program is struggling.
When Martin became athletic director in 2000, two of his more important early tasks were to clean up the basketball program, (which was dealing with Ed Martin aftermath), and solve the budget problems the athletic department was having at the time.
Fortunately, these problems are now long gone. Lately, Bill Martin has turned his attention to transforming the athletic campus. In the last five years, there has been a new locker room for the football team, a renovation to Yost Ice Arena, a brand new academic center and a football recruiting center. And up next, eventually, will be luxury boxes and who knows what else in Michigan Stadium.
It’s clear that the football program is incredibly important to the athletic department. When it needed a nicer locker room and a recruiting center (which is essentially an empty room with plasma TVs) to impress the high schoolers, it seemed to happen immediately. After all, Football Saturdays are the athletic department’s cash cow, and Martin wouldn’t dare mess that up.
Meanwhile, the basketball program is in desperate need of a practice facility, and though Martin has acknowledged that it is needed, it’s not in the immediate plans. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the football team’s practice facility revamped first, even though it is hardly needed.
Yes, Amaker deserves most of the blame for Michigan’s late-season collapse. Whether the problem is that he doesn’t bring in enough good players, doesn’t help them improve while they’re here or doesn’t make enough adjustments during the game, something isn’t quite working.
But the problems shouldn’t end with Amaker. If there’s no pressure on him to find ways to improve, and if this “it is what it is” attitude continues, then maybe we should all just treat the basketball season the way the athletic department seems to: as a way to kill time between football seasons.
Sharad Mattu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.