It’s Ok to be Ambivalent About Tom Izzo, Michigan St. Despite What Media Say

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In recent years, we’ve seen a major surge in tweets from media members and pundits that end with: “both things can be true.” Tweets such as these are required, given the binary mode of thinking that is so prevalent in America these days. Despite rapid advances in information technology and ways to disseminate that information, more people are regressing intellectually.

Tom Izzo is a human being, therefore he is a complicated individual filled with contradictions, numerous vices to counter-balance all the virtues. The Michigan State Spartans, the favorites this Final Four according to Bet365 and most other sports books, are a powerful, lucrative and successful sports brand. For all powerful and influential institutions that generate huge revenue there are plenty of proverbial bodies buried and malfeasant acts that get covered up.

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Larry Nassar, while he had power and influence at Michigan State, committed deplorable and heinous crimes. The University’s oversight of this situation was abominably incompetent.

Their response to these crimes coming to light was equally so. The school has showed awful judgment all along when it comes to this topic, and given the route they took in terms of changing their leadership (not cleaning house, but essentially preserving the status quo as much as possible), it doesn’t seem like they really learned anything from what happened. 

That said, it also really seemed like ESPN had an agenda for their Outside the Lines piece last year.

ESPN took old information, combined it with the damning information that was coming out at that time, and re-packaged the narrative that was most certainly a hit piece.

I have no doubts about the veracity of any of the claims in the OTL piece, but it’s clear they decided to point their guns at East Lansing for some reason.

The Michigan State Sports Information Department really had one hell of a 2018. (note: that’s not a sentence of sympathy) Regarding the basketball program specifically, it’s very unfortunate that Tom Izzo has repeatedly failed in the manner in which he discussed the Nassar case.

 “I hope the right person was convicted,” he said when the story first broke in January 2018. Because of this clueless statement, Izzo saw himself publicly called out by the mom of U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman.

“I think it’s part of healing process, I really do,” Izzo said a couple months ago in advance of ESPN bringing College Gameday to the home of the Spartans.

“And I think the best way we can show that is the support we give our players, our players on the floor, our program.”

If the “healing process” Izzo spoke of is the ESPN vs MSU rift, then yes, he is spot on. But unless you work for either entity why should you care even one iota about that feud? 

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If he was speaking of the healing process for sexual assault victims on campus and/or those that Nassar preyed upon…well, criticizing that statement is pretty low hanging fruit.

We could do another 1,000 words on the severity of that verbal gaffe. We don’t really know what Izzo totally meant, as he was either

a.) not probed for a follow up or

b.) he was and no one reported his explanation. 

Izzo’s handling of this situation was made to look even worse when MSU football coach Mark Dantonio handled it about as well as possible. Coach D. didn’t shy away from holding a news conference on the OTL findings while Izzo deflected and avoided talking about it as much as he could. 

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Since midseason last year, Izzo has definitely had a much shorter temper with the media, or at least with media members that aren’t within that very small clique of those who cover the program everyday.

On one hand, it’s understandable why Izzo might be more guarded and less patient with the media (he was inexplicably and especially surly after just winning the Big Ten Tournament a couple weeks ago), given what ESPN did last year.

On the other hand, in general, Tom Izzo gets extremely favorable treatment from the national media, and he is absolutely fawned upon by the talking heads and announcers that work for the NCAA broadcast rights holders.

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Last Sunday’s Elite Eight match-up was essentially a battle of two rock star coaches that CBS, TBS, BTN etc. will almost never say anything bad about — ever.

Remember, the guys on the desk and/or at the broadcast table are much more promotions guys than they are hard-core analysts. 

They want to further build the brand of coaches who already have star power to begin with, in order to get/keep people watching. It’s about ratings, not an actual fair-minded and realistic presentation. 

Will Funk, Executive VP of Turner Sports even said publicly that he hoped Duke would eventually win it all “because it will be the biggest ratings driver.”

So much for that, but hey, at least he’s honest. 

After witnessing the tirade on Aaron Henry (which came after a 10-0 run that put his team in the lead) during the first round win over Bradley, one could have easily predicted that national announcers and pundits were going to give him a free pass, just like they always do. And that’s exactly what happened- water carrying and spin. 

If you watched MSU’s second round game. then you might recall the announcers spending a decent amount of time serving as Izzo’s personal brand manager. They did this despite the Trumpian, no apologies, blaming the media style responses Tom Izzo gave when quizzed about his childish temper tantrum against Henry. 

Just one week earlier, during the Big Ten Tournament semifinal win over Wisconsin, Tom Izzo flipped out on Kenny Goins, dropping an f-bomb that anyone sitting in the first few rows at the United Center easily heard.

Izzo’s losing his mind came when his side was up double digits with just over a minute to go. 

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It’s worth mentioning though that Izzo’s players are ok with his Bobby Knight style failings in the anger management department. And with that, so are all of Izzo’s water-carriers in the national media. 

Here’s the thing though: You can admire Izzo’s accomplishments, and abhor his style. You can agree with his anti-participation trophy, 23rd place ribbon stance and NOT be a meat head.

Again both things can be true. You can value tough love, and also call someone out for taking it way too far. You can get things accomplished and not look like human ball of rage all the time. 

You don’t have to always stay in your lane, and you can get off stay brand from time to time. 

“I think there is a lot of trading in untruth in journalism about college sports,” said Jonathan Hock, creator of several 30 for 30 films, including the John Calipari episode One and Not Done.

“I think there is a lot of factionalizing of the media. You’re either in the Pitino camp or the Calipari camp. You’re either in the Harbaugh camp or the anti-Harbaugh camp. Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, you name it, there are those on that side and those that aren’t.”

“You really have to take everything with a grain of salt as to whose side who’s on when you’re reading things.”

If you really need someone to root for this weekend, then pull for MSU point guard Cassius Winston. He’s an avid reader, who got into Harvard, and a tremendous leader and spokesperson.

The way he handled the Izzo tirade on Henry (which is overlooked) showed you why he is definitely a good, admirable dude.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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