Michigan’s epic comeback win over Wisconsin provided three weeks worth of potential topics but in the interest of time, I’ll only be tackling one or two. Those who watched the game on TV probably heard some boos as ABC went to commercial after the first half ended. Those who were at the game undoubtedly heard the chorus of boos that rained down following a five turnover, 21 yard, zero point effort. The booing has resulted in a debate that has blazed across the Michigan fan-base like a wildfire. To boo or not to boo?
Like most heated debates, few people who have opined on the issue have left any room for compromise. Too many people love to play the “you’re wrong” game. Those words are like nails on a chalkboard to me. Part of the problem is that the internet is a historically bad place to conduct an argument. Tone and sarcasm are incredibly difficult to detect through written word. The result is a bitter feud where you’re either entirely for one thing or entirely against it. The problem with that is the right answer is almost always somewhere in the middle. For instance, the people who think fans shouldn’t boo are usually perfectly fine with calling out a player on an internet message board or website.
Booing isn’t my first reaction to crappy performances. I didn’t boo on Saturday. In fact, I was kind of caught off guard by it. As bad as Michigan played, the program is clearly in the midst of a rebuilding year. Booing implies that the team didn’t live up to expectations. It would be foolhardy for anyone to have had any expectations for this season. History shows that year one of implementing the spread is notoriously difficult to begin with. Throw a tall, slow, traditional pocket passer into the equation and the level of difficulty increases exponentially. So, by definition, there really shouldn’t be a whole lot to boo this season.
However, I have booed before. I really don’t remember exactly when it happened and I don’t feel ashamed about it. Most of it came from the student section and was directed at horrendous play calling. There isn’t a Michigan fan out there who doesn’t know what regime I’m referring to. I was anti-Carr way before being anti-Carr was en vogue. I always feel compelled to explain Carr’s dichotomy of being a great man and a not-so-great coach by quoting Jerry and George’s, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Nonetheless, there were instances when I wanted to send a message. Did it make a difference? Who knows. Did any of my posts about Michigan needing to go in a different direction in the coaching department make a difference? I have no idea. But that doesn’t keep me—or most other fans—from trying.
I do not support unbridled booing the minute something goes wrong. Historically bad performances as a result of poor coaching deserve to be booed. I would’ve booed pretty hard if I were at the Appalachian St. game last season. Booing should be reserved for the most egregious of performances. I think that it is totally acceptable to boo for the right reasons. Clearly there should be a distinction between shouting expletives and booing. I also think booing individual players should be off-limits as well. In fact, I have never felt the desire to boo a Michigan player. They are full-time students who have enough going on in their lives to expect perfection on the football field—or even anything remotely close to it. On the other hand, there isn’t an elite program in the country that wouldn’t get booed by its fans under the right circumstances. I read a comment on an ‘M’ message board that suggested other programs that didn’t boo were classier and cited Georgia fans as an example. Georgia was losing 31-0 to Alabama on Saturday and did not boo their team. I would bet a significant amount of minutes with Mike Barwis that had Georgia turned the ball over six times in the first half and faced a 31-0 deficit to Louisiana-Lafayette that boos would’ve poured down from Sanford Stadium.
The Michigan coaching staff is a different story. The Michigan staff gets paid well (six and seven figures annually) to put a winning product on the field. If said product is supposed to be very good and it turns out to be inexplicably atrocious (see; Appalachian St. ’07, Oregon ’07, San Diego St. ’04, Utah ’02) then the coaches deserve to hear it. If fans affect the outcome of games by inspiring players to do well, then it’s hard to argue that they don’t equally affect the outcome by providing a motivational “boo” when things aren’t going well. Teams respond to both. Players don’t need fans to cheer to play well. Fans do it anyways. Coaches don’t need fans to boo when things are going terribly. Fans do it anyways. Coaches need to be held accountable for extremely poor performances. The fans pay money to see a good product. A more effective way of saying the same thing is that fans don’t pay good money to see an extremely poor product. If the coach isn’t doing his job, he needs to hear it. What other opportunity does the average fan have to express his/her dissatisfaction directly to the coach? I am almost certain that there have been a number of athletic directors over time who have taken a chorus of boos from a disgruntled fan-base as the final sign that a change needs to be made. Boos aren’t meaningless. They can serve a purpose if used correctly.
The only drawback I can think of to booing (assuming it is not abused) is that even when it is appropriately directed at the coaches, the players may think it is directed at them. Let’s be realistic, though. Would it be great to live in a world of permanent euphoria where nobody is ever criticized for anything and butterflies count as currency? Yes, sign me up. However, that isn’t our world. The Michigan football team is not made up of a bunch of 8-year crybabies. Most are 19+ years old. They are old enough to vote and go to war. They are mature enough to hear boos and respond by saying “let’s go break heads in the second half.” The supporters of this specific argument mean well bit it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. What kind of treatment do these people think the players are subjected to in practice? Rodriguez is notoriously brutal on his players for making mistakes in practice. Virtually every coach in college football ridicules and shouts expletives at his players in practice. If booing is so bad and damaging to a player’s psyche, then how do they ever make it through extremely demanding practices?
A number of boo detractors state that booing is senseless because the players don’t play poorly on purpose. Again, I agree that boos should be directed towards the coaches and the overall performance rather than directly at individuals. It’s true that teams don’t play poorly on purpose but what about teams that aren’t giving it their best? Is it OK to take an opponent for granted? Is it OK to slack or assume that you’re going to win? That sort of thing is understandable on occasion. What if a team does it repeatedly? What about officials? They don’t officiate poorly on purpose but I would bet that most people would think it’s perfectly fine to boo an official. What if the players mistakenly think the people who are booing the officials are really booing them? If it’s a sportsmanship thing or a low class thing as some suggest, then why is it OK to boo the opposing team during introductions? It seems like the whole stadium takes part in that tradition. Being against booing opens up a whole slew of other things that people should be against but are not.
The problem with being universally against booing is that drawing a line for acceptable behavior becomes nearly impossible without bringing “hypocrisy” into the equation. Is it OK to rail on a player on the internet? Even civil remarks like, “Player X is the worst player I’ve ever seen” or lists of the worst players in the program are every bit as egregious as booing. To support one without the other is weak. Fans criticize. As long as discretion is used, there isn’t anything wrong with it. Don’t use insults and profanities when talking about a weak performance by a player on the internet and don’t shout insults and profanities at a game. Don’t boo whenever the team plays poorly and don’t hang over the tunnel and drop f-bombs on the players or coaches no matter who you think is responsible.
Booing is a way of expressing a pretty severe level of dissatisfaction. It is a message. It has been going on at sporting venues in one form or another since ancient Greece. The players obviously got fired up after hearing the halftime boos in the same way that getting railed on by Rodriguez and the rest of the staff in practice fires them up. A Michigan player admitted as much after the game. The alternative is to go home to a computer and rip on a player who played poorly. How can that be any more acceptable than booing? I would argue that booing is more effective than criticizing in front of a computer because the booing might actually motivate someone. Stevie Brown played very well on Saturday. However, he was very suspect in Michigan’s first three games. I bet the majority of the anti-boo establishment thought it was more than acceptable to hop on the internet and post something about how terrible Stevie Brown is. Some of these same people are the ones who argue that players shouldn’t be booed because they don’t play poorly on purpose. So then how is it OK to ridicule or call out a player on the internet who obviously did not attempt to play poorly on purpose?
Arguments need to be consistent. It’s silly to suggest that booing is never OK without also admitting that all negative action (internet criticism etc.) is not OK. Do some players feel bad about hearing boos? Probably. Do some players feel bad about reading that they had a horrible game on an internet site or message board? Of course. Use discretion. Don’t boo everything you see. Save it for something that truly warrants it. This season need not apply. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that RR will make booing a thing of the past in Michigan Stadium.