February 23, 2010
Last August is like the Stone Age in Internet time, but some readers may remember the late-breaking charges by the Detroit Free-Press against Michigan just a week before the Wolverines' season opener, specifically accusing the Rich Rodriguez administration of "consistently violat[ing] NCAA rules governing offseason workouts, in-season demands on players and mandatory summer activities" and briefly throwing the Michigan fan base into a divisive, defensive lather. The Wolverines' 4-0 start in September largely quieted the storm, but didn't deter the NCAA, which joined the university's own internal investigation and provided it with a detailed list of infractions on Monday.
Among the accusations in that letter, made public today, were five "major" violations:
• Quality control staffers "regularly monitored and conducted skill-development" activities with players during the winter and summer, "sometimes watched game and/or practice film" with players and "sometimes attended meeting involving coaching activities." As such, they qualify as coaches, exceeding the allowable number of coaches by five. This seems like by far the most significant charge in terms of possible retribution, though it's hard to judge if the staffers' "coaching" extended beyond minor pointers while standing around into active, substantive coaching points (i.e., were they going 40 in a 35, or 70?).
• Players were sometimes "required to participate in as many as five" hours of football activities per day during the season, exceeding the NCAA limit of four. In the offseason, players were sometimes required to participate in 10 hours per week, exceeding the NCAA limit of eight, and were sometimes disciplined with extra workouts for missing classes (permissible in the season, according to new athletic director David Brandon, but not in the summer). Football activities during the week of Oct. 19, 2008 exceeded the 20-hour weekly limit during the season by 20 minutes.
• A graduate-assistant provided "false and misleading" testimony to NCAA investigators, specifically that he was not present at a seven-on-seven drill during the summer. Another staffer -- newly promoted outside linebacker/safeties coach Adam Braithwate -- participated in on and off-field coaching activities before being hired as a coach.
• And finally (and most damningly), "Rich Rodriguez ... failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance and failed to adequately monitor" staff. The athletic department itself was cited along the same lines for "fail[ing] to adequately monitor its football program to assure compliance regarding the limitations on the number, duties and activities of countable football coaches and time limits for countable athletically related activities."
Stare into the face of bureaucracy, Michigan, and quiver at its awesome power.
Know also that every program in the country -- and I'm pretty confident when I say every program -- would run afoul of at least one of those infractions (or similar ones; it's a big manual) on a somewhat regular basis, as the minimum cost of employing fallible human being while continuing to dead-lift with the Joneses. Other programs, however, weren't the target of an investigation by a major metropolitan newspaper that left no stone unturned in its efforts to make a splash against a high-profile program. Michigan was, which is why it was Michigan's coach, president and new athletic director (not even officially on the job for two more weeks) in front of the cameras today feigning contrition over barely spilt milk.
The next steps in the complicated waggle dance with the NCAA include a formal response from the university within 90 days and an appearance before the Committee on Infractions in August, by which time the school may or may not have decided to self-impose sanctions in exchange for potential leniency from above. Potential punishment for "major violations" (likely including scholarship losses and probation) is certainly threatening enough that Brandon was forced to stress the awesome new paperwork system the department has implemented to track every single second of football-related activity by every single person in the vicinity of the campus to ward off potential violations in the future. Other big-time programs around the country will follow suit while thanking the stars some desperate reporter didn't come around their shop instead.