Michigan is officially on probation for the first time in school history, announcing Tuesday morning that it has docked practice time and reduced staff in a self-flagellation for five "major" violations of NCAA rules on practice time and monitoring workouts. In all likelihood, this marks a relatively painless end to the quasi-scandal initiated last August by a Detroit Free Press report, which briefly flung the Michigan fan base into a divisive, defensive lather, much of it aimed at the newspaper. (The Free Press' report on Tuesday morning's announcement runs eight tedious pages, for the record.)
The broadest punishment is two years' probation, which is essentially a Scarlet (and Gray, just to rub it in) 'P' to alert the world to the program's ongoing shame. More substantially, according to AnnArbor.com, the Wolverines' penance amounts to the following:
• Michigan docked itself 130 hours of practice time, double the 65 hours by which it exceeded NCAA limits by from January 2008 through September 2009. The reduction will take place through the 2011-12 academic year.
• It cut its number of quality-control assistants — support-staff members who overstepped their duties by engaging in coaching activities — from five to three for the next two seasons. They're also are restricted from attending practices this season and barred from normal game-day activities such as traveling with the team to road games or being on the sidelines for home games. A graduate assistant specifically named in the list of allegations from the NCAA was also fired in March.
• Finally, it issued letters of reprimand to seven people named in the allegations, most notably coach Rich Rodriguez, as well as wolf-loving strength and conditioning guru Mike Barwis, and most of the staff responsible for NCAA compliance.
This is not much, really, though the lost practice time has a chance to affect future competition, as opposed to games that are already in the books. The official reprimands to Rodriguez and Barwis, Rod's right-hand man in revamping the culture of the locker room, is another tiny arrow in the quiver of the traditionalist faction that seems to regard Rodriguez as an unscrupulous redneck setting torch to everything its storied program holds dear.
But there are no scholarship reductions, even minor ones, and no attempt to levy sanctions against Rodriguez, as was feared by his most patient defenders. Basically, it means one less blocking drill per day over the next two years, or a Benny Hill-like pace to get it in, in the reduced time.
Technically, the sanctions won't be official until the NCAA signs off on them in August, which it will, almost certainly, without adding any more of its own given the university's speedy cooperation in a case even some Buckeyes considered a waste of time. In the meantime, Rodriguez can turn his attention to matters that will actually affect whether he gets a fourth year in 2011 — namely beating the Buckeyes, or at least someone else in the Big Ten that isn't Indiana.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.