Ann Arbor — The University of Michigan has been playing football for more than a century, earning respect by becoming the nation’s winningest program while avoiding the stigma attached to teams that break NCAA rules.
The school admitted Tuesday to a series of violations by its storied football program and said it had reprimanded seven people, including third-year coach Rich Rodriguez. Another staffer was fired and the school released more than 150 pages detailing a breakdown in communication within the athletic department as well as self-imposed sanctions that include two years of probation.
The school now has to hope that its explanation and sanctions will satisfy the NCAA, which will hold a hearing on the case Aug. 13-14 in Seattle. A final decision isn’t expected for 6-10 weeks later, perhaps sometime during the Big Ten season.
Athletic director David Brandon said he doesn’t believe the problems related to practice time and coaching activities are enough to warrant the loss of scholarships or extreme disgrace.
“I don’t think this is a black eye,” Brandon said. “This is a bruise.”
Brandon bristled at the suggestion Michigan had cheated.
“Bad word, inaccurate word,” he said. “We made mistakes and where I come from, a mistake is different than cheating.”
Rodriguez will be in the spotlight more than ever next season, occupying perhaps the hottest seat in college football with an 8-16 record in two disappointing years with the Wolverines.
“Is there a sense of urgency? Sure,” he said. “But there was a sense of urgency last year, the year before and 20 years ago at Glenville State College.”
The violations came to light just before the 2009 season when the Detroit Free Press reported the program was exceeding NCAA limits on practice and training time, according to anonymous players. That prompted school and NCAA investigations, and the NCAA outlined five potentially major rules violations, all related to practices and workouts.
The only accusation the school strongly disagreed with was the one that charged Rodriguez with a failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.
“We think that is overly harsh,” Brandon said. “We do believe that there were things he could’ve done better and Rich would be the first to agree that details he delegated shouldn’t have been in retrospect.”
Rodriguez acknowledged making mistakes, but said he was upset by the charge the NCAA made directly at him.
“That’s another level when that is out there,” he said.
Brandon said the school decided not to take away scholarships or eliminate coaching positions based on precedent.
“That’s usually a result of something deemed to be an offense that created a competitive advantage,” Brandon said. “Those kind of sanctions are also typically related to academic fraud, gambling, recruiting violations and extra benefits.”
The school conceded that some of the violations “are major when considered as a whole.” But Brandon said it would be “a significant leap” to say Michigan gained a competitive advantage from the violations and the school shouldn’t be tagged as a repeat offender despite a 2003 scandal in the basketball program.
Both will be key arguments in August because either one would almost certainly lead to harsher penalties from the NCAA.
The school plans to cut back practice and training time by 130 hours over the next two years, starting this summer, to double the amount of time it said it exceeded NCAA rules. It also trimmed the number of assistants — the so-called quality-control staff — from five to three and banned them from practices, games or coaching meetings for the rest of 2010.
“It’s a significant detriment to the program,” Brandon said.
The school said two main problems — too many people acting as coaches and too many hours being put into football by the players — occurred in part because of “inattention by the football staff.”
After his hire from West Virginia, Rodriguez filled all five quality control positions in the program — essentially assistants to assistants who were paid $17 per hour to “run errands for the coaches, check on student-athlete class attendance and academic issues, and chart plays.”
The school said the staff “crossed the line in specific situations and engaged in ‘coaching activities'” as defined by the NCAA.
Rodriguez also told school investigators he didn’t know about forms used at Michigan to track athletes’ activities until last summer, 18 months after he was hired, and he said no one ever told him those forms were not being filed with compliance officials. Rodriguez also said following NCAA bylaws was not a “one-man job.”
Rodriguez’s response was submitted by his attorney, Scott Tompsett. He said the coach was “very disappointed that his administrators failed to provide the job descriptions on multiple occasions and he is disappointed that the compliance staff never brought their failure to his attention. Rodriguez has always had an open-door policy for anyone to bring matters to his attention.”
One staffer who worked under Rodriguez at West Virginia before joining him at Michigan, Alex Herron, was fired after his claim of not being present during some activities was discredited by players.
Brandon reiterated that Rodriguez will be back for a third season, dismissing the for-cause clause the school could use to fire him and saying he’s “sick of hearing” questions about his future. The end result, Brandon insisted, will not tarnish the school or football program known for winning, winged helmets and the Big House
“We’ve been in the business for 130 years,” Brandon said. “We’ll let our brand, and our integrity and our merits stand on our history and our beliefs.”