Tom Izzo, Michigan State cross advertising rubicon in a banner week for the NCAA

It’s you, Tom Izzo: You’re the Rocket Man.
It’s you, Tom Izzo: You’re the Rocket Man.
Illustration: Getty Images

In the same week that the NCAA disclosed that they don’t really have a plan if anything goes sideways at their Indiana NCAA Tournament, and Les Miles and Jeff Long showed what kind of people are really in charge, Michigan State may have taken the cake. That is, if the cake were sponsored by Betty Crocker.

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We’ll let them tell you:

“Michigan State Athletics couldn’t compete at the highest levels without the support of our corporate partners like Rocket Mortgage,” said Bill Beekman, Michigan State Director of Athletics. “We are appreciative of Rocket’s continued commitment to the Spartans and their unwavering support of our programs.”

Under the new five-year deal, Detroit-based Rocket Mortgage will be the presenting sponsor of the famed men’s basketball team which will now be known throughout the Breslin Center as, “MSU Spartans Presented by Rocket Mortgage.” The team is a perennial powerhouse, making eight Final Four appearances in the NCAA Tournament since head coach Tom Izzo took the helm in 1995.

The new partnership also secures considerable branding for Rocket Mortgage throughout the Breslin Center and Spartan Stadium, which will be highly visible to TV audiences. The integrations include multiple static and digital placements throughout the university’s athletic facilities, branding on the MSU men’s and women’s basketball team bench and clipboards, and logos prominently displayed on football coach Mel Tucker’s headset – making the company synonymous with Spartan athletics.

It writes itself. Here’s a basketball program turning over everything to a sponsor, to the point where “Rocket Mortgage” will be in the actual name when the Spartans are playing at home. Kids across Michigan surely have dreamed of running out under a banner festooned with Rocket Mortgage logos and to be told they are merely vehicles to promote that name. Oh, and a mortgage company that would probably suffer a massive, collective brain bubble if it ever provided a mortgage in the neighborhood where most of these players come from.

Yet the players, who make the program what it is, won’t see a dime of this. Tom Izzo will. The AD will. The school will. But the ones actually doing the work? They can get stuffed, apparently. Again.

And what did Tom Izzo have to say?

“As presenting sponsor of our season, their presence will be an asset as we compete for championships.”

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That so, Tom? It could very well get Tom a raise one day. Maybe some better facilities. But anything else? Will it help Tom interfere with sexual assault investigations within his team? Maybe it’ll give him more hush money to throw around, and in a way that could help Michigan State compete. Not that they wouldn’t find additional methods of looking the other way should they need to. But never piss off your corporate overlords. First thing they teach you in college, I think.

At least we’re not pretending anymore. This is so blatantly naked that there can’t be any dispute of what college sports are. Here’s some indentured servants, brought to you by a giant corporation making a few people rich who have nothing to do with education. You have to appreciate the clear relief this brings it all into. Why even try and hide it anymore? And MSU probably won’t be the last.

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With MLB taking control of the minor leagues, the one thing they can do is try out stuff in them for future use in the MLB game. And that’s apparently exactly what they’re going to do.

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The one that will have most fans’ ears perking up is the use of an automated strike zone. This is the one whose time has come and MLB needs to accelerate this. Umpires have been guessing at a strike zone for the entire history of the game, and it gets harder and harder with greater velocity and movement from pitchers. The idea that the zone will not change from game to game because of who’s behind the plate that night is exactly how the game is supposed to be arbitrated. And it will relieve all of us of the torture of watching Angel Hernandez makng himself the show in one out of every four games in some city.

The more unique rule is the limiting of pick-off throws and step-offs that a pitcher can employ during an AB. The idea is to promote stolen bases and attempts. Pitchers would be limited to two pick-offs or stepping off the mound, which means they’d really only get one. If a pitcher were to use both before an AB was over, there would be nothing keeping the next pitch being a track meet. It’s a little artificial, and the game’s problem isn’t that there aren’t enough stolen bases, but it’s at least something new.

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There’s also the limiting of shifts, at first keeping all the infielders on the infield. MLB hasn’t said it will go to keeping two infielders on each side of second base yet, but it’s on the table. Again, this has become a solution in search of a problem. Because of the shift, hitters have sought to lift the ball over it. Launch angle, as you’ve probably heard. Reducing the shift isn’t going to stop hitters from trying the more profitable approach, which is hitting the ball hard, up, and out of the park. It’s unlikely that any hitter will opt to go back to trying to squeeze grounders through the hole. Maybe a few more grounders will become hits, but enough?

Limiting the shift also doesn’t do anything about rising velocity from pitchers and the accepting of strikeouts from hitters. The game needs more contact, not positioning.

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But hey, it’s better than doing nothing and simply hoping things get better.