Rich Rodriguez, Michigan Football Punished by NCAA for Practice Violations
It is just one of many questions that fell through the cracks Thursday when the NCAA put Michigan on probation for three years because Rodriguez's staff overworked the players.
In a measure of how far Michigan football has fallen, school officials were relatively happy with the results of the investigation into the worst known violations in the history of a program that began in the 19th century. Perhaps they were right. It could have been worse.
In essence, the NCAA accepted a plea bargain that Michigan offered several months ago after it was exposed by The Detroit Free Press for, as the NCAA verified, breaking rules with too many practice sessions and other work off the field.
The NCAA bumped up the probation period to three years from the two that Michigan suggested. Practice hours have been taken away, staff aides have been reduced and Rodriguez will have to go to the rules meeting to review the regulations he supposedly already knows. It is as if he has to stay after school for detention.
But instead of finding that Rodriguez failed to provide an atmosphere of compliance -- something that might have resulted in reduced scholarships or caused the Wolverines to be banned from bowls -- the NCAA ruled merely that Rodriguez neglected to monitor his program thoroughly enough.
In essence, Rodriguez and Michigan were found guilty of a high misdemeanor instead of a felony. "Some of the things that did occur did not get all the way to the coach," the NCAA report said.
Follow the logic here. In essence, Rodriguez -- a veteran coach with a winning record at West Virginia -- was said to be unaware of what his staff was doing at Michigan.
Sure. Or, as the NCAA put it: "The Coach is responsible but that doesn't mean that the coach is involved in all the activities that occurred." Yes, of course. This ought to impress David Brandon, Rodriguez's new boss.
Brandon took over as athletic director earlier this year. Rodriguez was not his hire. That means he has no particular loyalty to him. On Thursday, Brandon wore a maize necktie and a blue suit and stood at some distance from Rodriguez, who takes a 5-3 record -- and a three-game losing streak -- into Saturday's game against Illinois.
Brandon, a politically ambitious Republican who came out of the pizza business, tried to minimize the violations Thursday, insisting they mostly involved players stretching. It sounded as if he was stretching the truth. He blamed "young staffers who were overzealous."
The presentation of sanctions took on an awkward dynamic in a room between the football stadium and the basketball arena. Paul Dee, who chairs the Committee on Infractions, spoke from NCAA headquarters on a conference call. He used technical jargon and refused to answer plain questions in plain english.
After telling reporters Dee would take questions from knowledgeable reporters in the Michigan area, the NCAA quickly cut off the conversation.
Then it was time for Brandon, who sounded smug and petty, attacking the accurate reporting of The Free Press as "overdone" with quotes taken out of context. He said the allegations were "false and misleading." He said the violations of practice time were a matter of minutes, not hours.
"We have not been whiny," he whined. "We have not pointed fingers at anyone." Then he changed his tone to "there are major violations, absolutely. We've admitted to them."
But he also skipped over NCAA wording that some players were forced into "summer conditioning activities as a form of punishment" against players.
In the curious vocabulary of football staffs, some of the aides supervising players were not coaches but were euphemistically called "quality control" aides. But the report also cited "strength and conditioning coaches" who punished players by forcing them to push a 45-pound weight for 200 yards on a football field.
As Brandon spoke, Rodriguez left the news conference early. He had to supervise football practice. Remaining next to Brandon was Mary Sue Coleman, the president of the university.
It was under her that Rodriguez and Brandon were hired. It was under her that the new luxury boxes were built. "We offer no excuses," Coleman said.
Coleman is an honored biochemist who said Thursday, "I'm a big sports fan." But no one needs a Ph.D to explain the facts of football life to Rodriguez: If you win, your supporters will forgive almost anything; if you lose, they will forgive almost nothing.
Certainly there is no spinning the bottom line of the Rodriguez regime. He is 13-19 so far and many of the victories have been against non-league patsies in the early season. In the Big Ten, he is 4-16, including 0-2 against Ohio State.
If this equation continues, Coleman and Brandon may soon be mixing up a new formula for change.