Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Those lying, cheating bastards

In case you've been buried under a rock today, you know that the NCAA released the findings of its investigation into Michigan's football team.

The results weren't really GOOD for Michigan, but they weren't anywhere near as bad as what was alleged by the Detroit Free Press back in August in a report that was ripped apart at the time by me and many other educated people.

Here's the gist of it, nicely summarized by ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg:
1. Five Michigan quality control staffers regularly engaged in both on-field and off-field coaching activities that are prohibited by NCAA rules. By engaging in these activities, Michigan exceeded the limit on number of coaches who can engage in these activities. Quality control personnel are alleged to have coached players two days a week in offseason workouts, warm-up activities during the season and film study, and they also attended meetings that involved coaching activities.

2. Michigan violated NCAA rules by having football staff members "monitor and conduct voluntary summer workouts, conduct impermissible activities outside the playing season, require football student-athletes to participate in summer conditioning activities for disciplinary purposes [missing class], and exceed time limits for countable athletically related activities during and outside the playing season." This seems to be the most serious charge and the one that sparked the Detroit Free Press report and the investigation. Here are some of the specifics:

* In two separate offseason periods in both 2008 and 2009, football players were sometimes required to participate in up to 10 hours of athletic activities or weight training/conditioning, which exceeds the limit of eight hours.
* During the 2008 season, players were sometimes required to participate for up to five hours a day in "countable athletically related activities," exceeding the maximum of four hours. The staff exceeded the 20-hour-a-week limit by 20 minutes during the week of Oct. 19, 2008.
* During September 2009, football players were required to participate in four and a half hours of activities per day, exceeding the NCAA limit by 30 minutes. The report identifies four dates in question: Sept. 7, Sept. 14, Sept. 21, Sept. 28.

3. Graduate assistant Alex Herron is accused "providing false and misleading information" to both Michigan and the NCAA enforcement staff when asked about the allegations. He denied being present for 7-on-7 passing drills in the summers of 2008 and 2009 when he allegedly conducted the sessions.

4. Because of the first two allegations (detailed above), Rodriguez is alleged to have "failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the football program and failed to adequately monitor the duties and activities of the quality control staff members, a graduate assistant coach and a student assistant coach, and the time limits for athletically related activities."

5. Because of the first two allegations, Michigan's athletics department is alleged to have "failed to adequately monitor its football program to assure compliance." Compliance staff members became concerned about the duties of the quality control coaches in the winter of 2008 but didn't gather enough information to determine potential problems. The strength and conditioning staff didn't calculate time limits for offseason workouts or effectively communicate information to the compliance office. This resulted in the compliance office approving miscalculated activities and failing to follow its own policies for monitoring these activities. Athletics staff also failed to provide the forms showing countable activities to the compliance office.
To answer the obvious question: Yes, this happens everywhere (and I do mean everywhere). Think I'm too biased and that I'm just trying to defend Michigan? Fine. I'll cede the floor to Yahoo's Dr. Saturday:
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.
It's wildly irritating to see this happening at UM while it's clear that there are programs all over the country blatantly flouting NCAA rules and general moral standards, but whatever. It is what it is.

To summarize, the whole report can be boiled down to two things:

1. Michigan believed 20 minutes of each practice (two hours a week when added up) counted as voluntary stretching and preparation. The NCAA disagreed. This will probably lead to a filing by Michigan explaining its side of the argument, and nothing will come of it because this is an extremely gray area in the NCAA rule book.

2. Quality control coaches (graduate assistants) observed "voluntary" summer workouts, and one of them lied about it when questioned by the NCAA. This is a little more clear-cut, as it's basically forbidden for anyone except trainers to be doing anything at summer workouts. The tricky thing is that graduate assistants are paid interns and don't count toward the NCAA limit on number of coaches, so do they count the same as coaches for practice involvement? Probably, but that's another gray area. Then again, for a coach who's been around for a long time, it's something Rodriguez probably shouldn't have risked.

Basically everything else in the report is in reference to Rodriguez and the school's compliance department failing to catch and stop those two issues.

There are a total of five violations. You might see in some places that there are five MAJOR violations, but that's incorrect. All five are called "potential major violations," which simply means that they might be major violations and they might be secondary violations -- it'll depend on the school's response (via a rebuttal to the allegations or self-imposed punishment, probably some of each).

You can be pretty sure that Alex Herron, the GA accused of outright lying to the NCAA, is as good as gone. No one else is accused of lying, so the assumption here is that the lies were to cover his own ass and that removing him from the department should take care of that problem with the NCAA.

Incoming athletic director Dave Brandon also made it clear that the UM compliance system for practice time reports is being revamped, which should serve as evidence that the school has taken care of any communication issues and isn't intentionally turning a blind eye to NCAA compliance. The same goes for the football team, obviously.

My only real concern is with the QC staff being present at summer workouts. That's something it will be a little difficult to get out of, especially if the NCAA had enough evidence to decide that one of the people in attendance was lying about his direct involvement. This is a fairly minor thing in the big picture, but my guess is that UM will self-impose a couple penalties to fend off any punishment from the NCAA (not that anything serious would happen, but it looks better to slap yourself on the wrist than to have somebody else do it).

A realistic guess: The football team loses a couple days of offseason practice (or cuts a couple practices short) and docks itself a scholarship for one or two years, which is more than sufficient punishment.

For all the people saying "but but but RichRod's contract says he can be fired for major violations!": Yes, I'm sure it does. And I'm sure there would be a lot of elite coaches lining up to take over a rebuilding team at a school that just fired its coach after two years. Stop.

Brandon made it as clear as can be at Tuesday's press conference:
“Rich Rodriguez is our football coach. He’ll be our football coach next year. There is nothing that I see in what has come up in the notice of allegation or our internal investigation that leads me to believe that there should be any change in the status of our football coach.”
That takes care of it, I'd say.

The long and the short of it is that these are piddling, delving-into-the-gray-areas allegations. There's just no way the NCAA comes down hard on UM for anything in this report, because doing so would open up a ginormous can of worms. Literally any newspaper anywhere could do a FOIA request and get some practice logs and show that Big State University (woo "He Got Game" reference) went over the allowed time limit one day in July of 2003, and the precedent would be set for major penalties. The same is true with the quality control coaches and their level of involvement. It's just not gonna happen.

And when UM announces in a few months that it will self-impose some minimal, barely noticeable penalties that won't have any real effect on anything, that'll be the end of it -- especially with a ruling on the three-years-in-the-works USC case coming in the near future. Michigan's case was peanuts compared with USC's. UM gets a brief mention on Sportscenter and the third spot on ESPN's "Top Stories" list; USC will get its own Outside the Lines special and a full week of Mark Schlabach, Joe Schad and Pat Forde poring over the long-term ramifications, whatever they may be.

So yeah, once this works its way off the front page and we actually have something interesting to talk about, it'll be quickly forgotten. RichRod will still be coaching come football season and all the Free Press ridiculousness will have had no tangible effect on Michigan in any way, which is exactly how it should be.

Is it September yet?

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