John U. Bacon

By Michigan Radio Newsroom

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Every Friday, author and sports commentator John U. Bacon offers up his thoughts and views on the sports stories going on around our region.

Episode Date
Big Ten football suffers from a lack of leadership
In 1895, the presidents of seven Midwestern universities met at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago to form what we now call the Big Ten. They created the world’s first school-based sports organization, predating even the NCAA. Soon the rest of the country’s colleges and high schools followed suit, forming their own leagues based on the Big Ten model. The uniquely American marriage of academics and athletics – something no other country would even consider -- had been officially consummated. The Big Ten quickly established itself as the nation’s premier conference on the football field, too, and kept it up for decades. From 1900 to 1970, Big Ten teams won 39 national titles – more than one every two years. When the Rose Bowl started pitting the Big Ten against the Pac-10 in 1948, the Big Ten won 11 of the first 12. Sometimes the Big Ten would send its runner up – and that team would crush the Pac-10 champion, too. The Big Ten’s hey-day looked like it would never end. This was the fifties
Sep 19, 2014
Michigan athletics loses magic and fans thanks to Brandon's policies
L ast week, Michigan Athletics admitted student football ticket sales are down —from about 21,000 two years ago to just 13,000 this fall. How’d Michigan lose so many students so fast? A lot of hard work. Athletic Director Dave Brandon has often cited the difficulty of using cell phones at Michigan Stadium as "the biggest challenge we have." But when Michigan students ranked seven factors for buying season tickets, they ranked cell phones dead last. What did they rank first? Being able to sit with their friends.
Jun 06, 2014
Advisers aren't doing Michael Sam any favors
When Michael Sam told his University of Missouri teammates he was gay before last season, it wasn’t a big deal. It’s a safe bet that NFL teams – who know what kind of gum their prospects chew – already knew this, too. But when Sam came out publicly, it changed the equation. The NFL has already had gay players, so that’s not new. But publicly declaring you’re gay is new – and so is the onslaught of media attention. After Sam came out, he dropped from a projected fourth- or fifth-rounder to the seventh and final round. Part of the reason was surely homophobia – though that term isn’t accurate. To paraphrase Morgan Freeman, “If you’re homophobic, you’re not afraid of homosexuals. You’re just an A-hole.” But the NFL teams that passed on Sam probably had other reasons, too. Yes, Sam was named defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, but he’s not a complete player. He’s great at sacking quarterbacks, but not at covering the run. At the NFL Combine, his numbers for speed
May 23, 2014
Why hockey fans should still savor the Red Wings' season
Wednesday night the Detroit Red Wings lost their final playoff game of the season to the Chicago Blackhawks, breaking the hearts of hockey fans across Michigan. But according to Michigan Radio Sports Commentator John U. Bacon, it was still a series to savor. Most sports fans are happy just to see their team make the playoffs. But Detroit Red Wings fans have been able to take that for granted for a record 22 straight seasons. The last time the Red Wings didn’t make the playoffs, 1990, not one current NHL player was in the league. Some of the current Red Wings weren’t born. Nine current franchises weren’t yet created. But the record seemed doomed to be broken this season.
May 31, 2013
Students aren’t leaving Michigan football - Michigan football is leaving them
For decades, students at Michigan games were assigned seats, with the seniors getting the best ones. But for some games last year, a quarter of the 20,000 or so people in the student section were no-shows. So, athletic director Dave Brandon decided to switch them to general admission – first come, first seated -- to get them to show up on time -or, at all. The students went ballistic. Yes, some can display a breathtaking sense of entitlement, and they won’t get much sympathy from the average fan, who has to pay three or four-times more. But before we bash the students too much, perhaps we should ask why they’re not showing up. Punishing your paying customers for not liking your product enough is probably not something they teach at Michigan’s Ross School of Business. The athletic department hasn’t asked them, but I have a few hunches. Because tickets are so expensive now, and games take so long, the current students didn’t go when they were kids – which is when you get hooked on the
May 03, 2013
From out of the sewers, Michigan finds its man in John Beilein
It wasn’t that long ago that Michigan’s basketball program was not merely unsuccessful, but the shame of the athletic department. Bo Schembechler fired basketball coach Bill Frieder on the eve of the 1989 NCAA tournament, famously barking, “A Michigan Man will coach Michigan.” Assistant Coach Steve Fisher filled in, and the team “shocked the world” by winning Michigan’s first-ever national title in basketball. But on the eve of Fisher’s ninth season, he too was fired in disgrace, because some players had been paid by a booster. Another assistant coach, Brian Ellerbe, was named the interim coach, which usually is a mistake -- and this proved no exception. At the 1998 Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines pulled a rabbit out of a hat to win it, and Ellerbe was named the permanent head coach – until he was fired three years later because of a bad record -- and players being paid by the same booster. The NCAA launched an investigation that lasted years. Tommy Amaker, the next coach, had to
Apr 12, 2013