The Detroit Free Press reported on its website Saturday night that Michigan’s football program has routinely and excessively violated NCAA rules which restrict the amount of practice and training time schools may require of its players.
The newspaper interviewed 10 current or former players and the parents of four other players. Five of the players, according to the report, gave almost identical stories of excessive practice and off-season workout time, which is supposed to be limited to eight hours a week in the off-season and 20 hours during the season.
If these reports turn out to be true, second-year coach Rich Rodriguez could be in trouble. First of all, the Wolverines went 3-9 in 2008, snapping a string of 40 consecutive non-losing seasons. It is a well-known fact in college football circles that Rodriguez ruffled a lot of feathers when he arrived at Michigan. He attempted to alter some facets of the Michigan football culture, which had essentially remained unchanged in the almost 40 years since Bo Schembechler became head coach in 1969 and Lloyd Carr stepped down after the 2007 season. And since Michigan has won more games (872) than any school in Division I-A history, it stands to reason there were a number of people in Ann Arbor who thought the football culture at UM was just fine.
Rodriguez and others would tell you that after watching Ohio State take over the rivalry with Michigan (Ohio State has won seven of the last eight meetings) some things needed to be shaken up in Ann Arbor.
Still I have heard stories of former players who have been put off by the changes at Michigan and want the program and Rodriguez to fail. Remember that former UM offensive lineman Justin Boren left the program in March of 2008 and released a statement that the program’s “family values” had eroded. According to the Free Press report, more than 20 players have left the Michigan program since Rodriguez took over.
But here is my real concern if I’m a Michigan fan. What does it say about the state of a program when your own players, albeit a small number of them, will rat you out to the media in a story that runs one week before your first game? It could turn out that these players are simply lying in order to be vindictive. A certain number of players always balk and complain when a new staff comes in. But it could also be that they are telling the truth. An internal investigation will have to determine if that is the case.
Either way, this is embarrassing to Michigan, a university that has always prided itself on going the extra mile to do things the right way. Among coaches, Schembechler and Carr were two of the straightest shooters I’ve ever met.
(An aside here. Alabama fans have to be looking at this story with interest. In December 2006 Rodriguez gave a verbal commitment to come to Alabama but changed his mind and remained at West Virginia. What if this was happening in Tuscaloosa?)
And if it can happen at Michigan, it can happen anywhere. If the NCAA starts looking under this rock at every school, it could get ugly.
Now let’s be honest here. Is there anyone out there who thinks college football players only work out eight hours a week in the offseason? I know I don’t. The demands of this sport have gotten so great, the stakes for everyone have become so high, that if I were a college football player with hopes of playing at the next level I would certainly invest more than eight hours a week into my sport.
So players attend the “voluntary” workouts and everybody understands that the NCAA time limits are not followed to the letter. But if this story turns out to be true, and Michigan has abused these rules to the degree that has been reported, the fallout could be significant across college football. The NCAA rule book is so thick because people, mostly coaches, are always pushing the limit to get a competitive advantage. The original time limits on practice and off-season workouts were put into place because of excesses by coaches. Maybe the NCAA will have to step in again with even more draconian measures.
That would not be good for the sport, but it might be necessary to save the coaches from themselves.
I do know this. Rich Rod really needs to beat Notre Dame on Sept. 12.
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