Forty names, games, teams and details that make news in college football (sportsmanship sold separately in The Mitten):
Shame on the Big House
Don’t blame the tunnel. This is a cop-out, an excuse, a bypass of what really happened.
Don’t dismiss it as a boy-will-be-boys scrape. What the Michigan State players did in that tunnel was an assault, and no one should be surprised or outraged if charges are brought.
Don’t discount it as the mere byproduct of a heated rivalry. There are plenty of teams and schools that hate each other without the post-game scene getting as ugly as the Big House on Saturday night.
When a group of Michigan State (1) Players surrounded and attacked without a helmet Michigan (2) The player identified as Ja’Den McBurrows after the Wolverines beat the Spartans 29-7, that was the attitude of a loser. Dangerous behavior. Video of what appears to be a separate attack appeared on Sunday, and it’s also outrageous.
That this travesty happened in the context of a football game is a shame on Michigan State and the coach Mel Tucker (3). The program followed a brilliant 2021 season with a flop in ’22, and it was hard not to watch that display of aggression and wonder why the Spartans were relatively meek on the field. Unfortunately for Tucker, this will surely become the defining image of his program for the 2022 season.
“As Spartans, our program has a responsibility to maintain the highest level of athleticism,” Tucker tweeted Sunday morning. “While emotions were very high at the end of our game at Michigan Stadium, there is no excuse for behavior that puts our team or our opponents at risk. In full cooperation with law enforcement, the Big Ten Conference and MSU and UM leadership, we will assess the events in Ann Arbor and take swift and appropriate action.”
While there’s an obligation to get to the bottom of the incidents as thoroughly as possible — what led up to it, notably, including whether Michigan players initiated any of the interactions — that shouldn’t be overly complicated. As coaches like to say, “The film doesn’t lie.” And there is film, courtesy of him Detroit News author Matt Charboneau. (The source of the second video is unclear.) Several names and numbers of the perpetrators are clearly visible.
This much seems clear: Michigan State’s leadership has no choice but to underestimate the players involved. It doesn’t matter what the impact is on the depth chart. Not only is this behavior worthy of punishment, but if the school shirks responsibility, there are others standing by to drop the hammer. The Big Ten front office and law enforcement will want to have their say on this one. Commissioner Kevin Warren (4)who watched the game and has a son on the Michigan State roster, doesn’t want this video as a defining example of what Big Ten rivalries are all about.
If the Spartans players involved are suspended for multiple games or the rest of the season, they may get off lightly. Assault charges could have a far more negative impact than missing some football games.
Beyond the immediate implications, the incident offers a broader reflection on how everyone in college football — fans, media, coaches, players, administrators and executives — approaches these games. Perhaps the entire sport could use a deep breath and examine the concept of winning and losing with some element of dignity.
First, let’s get rid of the excuse and the finger pointing. Take, for example, the Michigan Stadium Tunnel (5).
The Big House was built almost a century ago with a single entrance and exit. For decades, it was perfectly functional. Now, some say Michigan should build a second tunnel to avoid player collisions. (Two weeks ago, Penn State and Michigan players had a bit of a fight in the same area, which apparently involved some Nittany Lions flying Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches (6) to the Wolverines. This is preferable to hits.) This is stupid. Blaming the pitch is like blaming the weather when you walk outside in a storm and get wet.
What needs to happen in this tunnel area is for the players to go directly to their changing rooms from the pitch. If that’s too much to ask, then it’s up to small army-sized staffs to take charge, form a buffer, and prevent groups from interacting. Michigan reportedly had additional tunnel security on hand Saturday night, but they certainly didn’t appear in any way that was visible in the video of the attacks. Neither does any coach.
Second: Fans must stay in their lane (7)—and, ideally, stay put. There was a third video from Saturday night showing unacceptable behavior, according to reports before the match, by a fan reaching down and touching Tucker’s head. “Keep your hands to yourself” is the basic preschool teaching. do we need to offer a top-up program to idiots who watch football games?
The second part of this is the dynamic of fans invading the stadium after big wins. Look, these are great scenes and (usually) unforgettable fun for those involved. But they also create dangerous situations that put many people – visiting teams and the fans themselves – at risk. There are scary moments if you’ve ever been caught in this situation—I’ve seen fans trapped and nearly crushed against walls or under the rafters on numerous occasions, and opposing teams will take a defensive stance as chaos stirs around them. Not making excuses for Alabama wide receiver Jermaine Burton punching a fan during the Tennessee scrimmage a few weeks ago — Nick Saban did that for him — but there’s an inherent danger in taking the field.
Third, and this is not specifically aimed at the events in the Great House on Saturday: the most common lament of the defeated is to blame the officials (8). This is in keeping with the growing American tendency to not simply accept defeat and somehow try to nullify the results because the other side cheated. Bad calls are no excuse to, say, litter the field (see: Tennessee vs. Mississippi, 2021).
Fourth: if there is a way to reduce the class war (9) that comes with college football, especially rivalries, would be nice. Fans (and sometimes coaches and administrators) tirelessly search for evidence that their school has more class than the dirty bums on the other side of the state. It’s a universal dynamic that’s probably as old as higher education itself, but Michigan-Michigan State is certainly full of it. (The gold standard in tut-tutting an opponent about who has more class is Duke-North Carolina basketball, but that’s a different story for a different day.)
Two realities: no school is an ivory tower, and it’s always good when the more arrogant side recognizes that. If your school is one you hold in contempt, do not give your smug rival fresh material to despise you further.
And finally: maybe the school official social media accounts should reduce taunt (10). Yes, many of the posts modifying a defeated opponent can be very funny and make fodder for the media. But perhaps we should leave that to the speakers (and wise columnists), as opposed to the official accounts calling the shots. The best way to win is to shake hands with the other team, and if you want to make a statement, just point to the scoreboard on the way out of the stadium.
There is nothing wrong with taking the high road to victory. And it’s only right to take the high road in defeat, too. After a great rivalry in the gutter Saturday in Ann Arbor, this seems like a good reminder.