ATLANTA - Of the four voice mails I received when I got back to the office after covering the NCAA Tournament in Dallas, this one stuck out to me.
"Why did you mention the 1993 Michigan men's basketball team in Monday's story ... and what year did you graduate from Ohio State?"
Well, I guess this means I'm officially a Michigan beat writer.
But in all seriousness. It would be remiss if publications overlooked an important yet dubious part of the Michigan athletic program's history and the basketball program's brand. The "Fab Five" is what helped Michigan maintain its hold on national basketball prominence after it won the 1989 national championship.
You can't just acknowledge the good parts of history. You have to take in account the struggles and conflicts in history, as well. And in college athletics, both the good and the bad become part of a college program's brand. While I'm no means a sycophant, I'll echo Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon's statements on branding and college athletics that he made earlier this year at a speaking engagement here in Toledo.
Consider the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, one of the biggest in college athletics. Before that, Penn State was known as one of most prominent football schools in the country. Now, people can't bring up Penn State without taking into consideration a scandal that damaged the lives of children, killed the career of an otherwise legendary coach and cast what some considered an irreparable pall over the football program.
And consider Michigan basketball. While it's in no means anywhere near the same degree as a heinous crime, the Fab Five put Michigan basketball back on the map 20 years ago, and for years - even in the lean years for Michigan basketball, after the NCAA handed down and the school self-imposed sanctions on the basketball program - you couldn't mention Michigan basketball without mentioning Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, et al. And the sanctions and investigation that affected the program. All of that became part of the Michigan basketball brand, for better and for worse.
You don't mention historical moments without putting them in a certain context, spoken or unspoken. And even the Michigan basketball program's current figures continue to mention the 1993 squad, whether they're asked or they offer their own thoughts. And through the course of the NCAA Tournament, it's been asked about quite a bit.
Again, to ignore the Fab Five - and the actions and repercussions that led to some dark days in the program - would be remiss, not to mention irresponsible.
And, for the record, I graduated from neither Michigan nor Ohio State.