If a group of current and former Michigan players have their way, football coach Rich Rodriguez is done getting away with breaking these rules. The Detroit Free Press has all the alleged details.
After a 3-9 season in 2008, hopes are high for a quick turnaround at Michigan. Rodriguez has found quarterbacks to run his spread offense, and the team as a whole now has a full offseason of work under the coach's program.
This, it seems, is where the problem begins. The NCAA indeed has limits on the amount of offseason work players can be required to do. Naturally, players who want to put in more time are more than welcome to. However, it has to be voluntary and not "mandatory."
At the school's news media day, the Free Press asked freshman Brandin Hawthorne what winter conditioning was like. Hawthorne, a linebacker from Pahokee, Fla., enrolled in January.Now, neither player was complaining. Neither player was trying to get Rodriguez or the school in trouble. Instead, it seems the players are just doing what they're told, and not terribly concerned about Michigan's coaches willfully breaking NCAA rules.
"It's crazy," said Hawthorne, who was not complaining about his coaches and was apparently unaware of the time-limit rules. "I work out at 8. We'll work out from, like, 8 to 10:30. We come back later, have one-on-ones, seven-on-sevens, a little passing. Then I'll go watch a little film."
The Free Press also asked freshman receiver Je'Ron Stokes about Michigan's off-season program. Stokes, from Philadelphia, arrived at the Ann Arbor campus in June.
"Hooooo!" Stokes said. "A typical week is working from 8 a.m. in the morning to 6 or 7 at night, Monday through Saturday."
And that was starting in June?
"Yes, sir," Stokes said. "We do the weight room at least three times a week, and seven-on-sevens and one-on-ones. Speed and agility on the other days. Every day we have something new to get ready for the season. The coaches have done a great job of stressing the importance of getting us ready for the big season that we're about to have."
The saying "Workouts aren't mandatory, but neither is your playing time," is thrown around, according to the report. The paper also mentions the idea that other schools are committing the same violations. The NCAA will undoubtedly welcome that defense.
The Free Press compared that atmosphere to that of former coach Lloyd Carr.
But veteran players told the Free Press that Carr and his director of weight training and conditioning, Gittleson, strictly followed the NCAA rules. Players were expected to spend up to eight hours a week pushing themselves in the weight room during the off-season, but anything beyond that was truly voluntary. They also were encouraged to fit their workouts around their class schedules.Workouts weren't the only issue brought up by players.
Under Carr, off-season seven-on-seven drills were run by players, without coaches or staff members present, players said. The only staffer there would be a trainer, in case anybody got injured, as allowed under NCAA rules.Obviously, Michigan fans are going to be upset by this story. They may drop threats to the Free Press about canceling subscriptions or boycotting advertisers. However, the story seems to have been well-researched, and it doesn't just come across as a hatchet job against the evil outsider (Rodriguez) and his program.
Several players said Rodriguez's coaches were more likely to insist they participate in seven-on-seven scrimmages, which have become more frequent. They also said that members of the program's quality-control staff frequently watched seven-on-sevens.
"They usually just watched and would write down who wasn't there," one player on the 2008 team said.
... Quality-control staffers are not allowed to attend voluntary drills, according to the NCAA.
Instead, it's clear that this is a cultural problem in college sports. You're going to have a hard time convincing any follower of the sport that teams across the country don't break the rules about mandatory workout time. Paul Gattis of the Huntsville Times -- the heart of the SEC, mind you -- notes a lack of surprise.
Rodriguez issued a statement to the Free Press, saying he follows the rules regarding practice and offseason workouts.
The story may prompt an NCAA investigation, or the school could conduct its own. As the Free Press notes, it's almost impossible to predict what kind of punishment could come down to a program found guilty of these types of violations. However, major violations typically lead to loss of scholarships and probation. Because of the nature of these violations (if they're proven by the NCAA's standards), Rodriguez could also lose practice time.
Needless to say, this isn't the kind of attention Michigan fans want on the football program. The Wolverines open the regular season Saturday in Ann Arbor against Western Michigan.