Rodriguez’s problem: Everybody cheats, but others are liked

Get the feeling Rich Rodriguez's head didn't hurt as much in West Virginia?

Get the feeling Rich Rodriguez's head didn't hurt as much at West Virginia?

That was a fine decision LSU coach Les Miles made two years ago to not go to Michigan. (See video below)

By now you’ve probably heard that Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez is being investigated by the school for requiring players to put in practices and strength and conditioning hours far more than are allowed by the NCAA. This follows a package of stories in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press that quoted several players anonymously. Rodriguez denied the allegations again today in a news conference.

My initial reaction was the same as almost everybody’s: Hah! (Sorry. I have this thing about how people who pledge loyalty one day, leave the next, try to get out of paying $4 million exit clauses in their contract and get implicated for stealing player files on the way out the door. I also have a strong belief in the whole what-goes-around-comes-around thing.)

Here’s my second reaction: I’d be stunned if the vast majority of major college football programs — and that certainly includes everybody in the SEC and ACC — also aren’t bending/breaking the rules when it comes to unofficial organized workouts. There is no such thing any more as an “optional” workout.

But you know what the difference is? The players on those other programs aren’t complaining.

That’s the real story here: Rodriguez is not revered in Ann Arbor the way he was in Morgantown. I’m not even sure he’s liked. Regardless of what Michigan finds in its in-house investigation, it’s clear that former and current players have such disdain for Rodriguez and his methods that they felt compelled to go to the media. And maybe it’s just a lot easier to push people around when you’re tucked into the mountains in West Virginia than it is in Ann Arbor.

Rodriguez is making $2.5 million per year (I think that’s still considered big money if you’re not in the SEC). Michigan also helped pay for his protracted buyout at West Virginia. The administration has a lot riding on this hire. So far all they’ve gotten out of it is a 3-9 record and a home loss to Toledo. This follows the school’s strange dance with Miles, which prompted his brief and abrupt news conference below from before the SEC title game.

This is the downside of big time college football programs believing one coach can solve all of their problems. Sometimes things blow up.

It says here that’s not a bad thing.

Dec. 1, 2007: Les Miles holds an unscheduled news conference to announce, “Move along: Nothing to see here.”

42 comments Add your comment

MatthewH

August 31st, 2009
12:28 pm

I thought I misread the crawl when it was saying that Michigan players had reported the violations. Why would a player report violations against their own team?!? I guess I now know the answer. Now if we can just get this to happen at Arkansas, I’ll be happy.

MatthewH

August 31st, 2009
12:30 pm

I mean, there has to be some kharma payback for Petrino, right?

GeoffDawg

August 31st, 2009
12:33 pm

Karma – “My Name is Rich”.

Rich Rod does sound like a bit of an arrogant blowhard which doesn’t do much to differentiate him from 90% of college head coaches out there. I’m curious how fast the NCAA will act on this though. I think their “fact finding” at USC is now in it’s fourth interminable year. Some programs seem to get a pass – maybe Michigan isn’t one of them anymore.

GeoffDawg

August 31st, 2009
12:37 pm

Karma for Petrino would be to end up as the special teams coach in charge of player laundry at Little Rock High.

Scott

August 31st, 2009
12:53 pm

Jon Chait
Special to TheWolverine.com
Talk about it in The Fort
Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg’s expose on Michigan workout program revealed a shocking breach of rules that should cause somebody to lose his job. That somebody is Michael Rosenberg’s editor.

Rosenberg is a talented writer. I enjoyed his book and gave it a favorable review in the New York Times. Yes, he has strong opinions on Rich Rodriguez. (He’s hated him from the moment he appeared on Michigan’s radar and has made it his life’s work to run him out of town.) But that’s his right as an opinion columnist.

What’s not his right is conducting investigative journalism for a newspaper on a topic on which he has expressed such passionate opinions. In my primary field (writing about politics) no respectable newspaper would dream of letting an opinion columnist who had crusaded against an administration write a news article claiming to uncover dirt on that very same administration. It’s wildly improper.

If I were a sports editor at the Free Press, and Rosenberg came to me with his stories about illegal workouts at Michigan, I’d thank him for the lead. Then I’d pass the information on to one of my reporters. I’d tell the reporter to look into several college programs, not just ones run by coaches Rosenberg was trying to get fired. If Michigan really turned out to be doing something unusual, fine.

Instead, the Free Press published a prosecutor’s brief, determined to make the case against Rodriguez, rather than present the facts in an evenhanded way.

The key concept behind his allegations of rule-breaking is “involuntary.” Players can work out as long as they want. It only breaks the rules if the players are being forced to work out beyond the allotted time. Rosenberg filled his article with quotes from Michigan players describing how hard they work. It’s meaningless. It’s as if he set out to expose an epidemic of rape, and came back with an article mainly describing the conjugal relations of happily married couples.

Now, the concept of “voluntary” is pretty hard to pin down. The Free Press would have done college athletes a great service by exploring whether it’s actually possible for players to make voluntary decisions. After all, college coaches have enormous power over their players, and the players usually see the coach’s desire as a command. When I played high school football twenty years ago, I did not consider offseason workouts to be voluntary. Neither did the players who, having missed such sessions, “decided” to stay after practice and run wind sprints until they puked.

A few years ago, USA Today did a good piece on offseason workouts in college, questioning whether such activities could truly be voluntary. The article quoted one Georgia football player scoffing at the notion. (”It’s mandatory to us,” he confessed.) But that sort of comprehensive approach didn’t advance Rosenberg’s goal.

Rosenberg made only a farcical effort to compare Michigan’s program to that run elsewhere. He solicited a few on-the-record quotes from former Michigan State players, who told him with a straight face that no, sir, we only condition for an hour or two a day. Maybe this claim is worth verifying.

Now, I’m no Bob Woodward. But I did manage to dig up an obscure source confirming that Michigan State football players work just as hard as the Wolverines. My secret source is a publication called the Detroit News. It printed an article on July 29, 2008, reporting:

MSU says it has a strong weight coach, too
Dave Dye
The Detroit News

Much has been made about the intense workouts at Michigan under Mike Barwis, the new strength and conditioning coach.

The Michigan State Spartans would like everyone to know they’re working pretty hard, too.

“I don’t think they’re working harder than us anyway,” MSU running back Javon Ringer said. “I’m pretty sure they’re working tremendously hard, but the things we go through with our weight-training coach — coach (Ken) Mannie — are unbelievable.”

Big Ten players know each other pretty well – especially players from the same state, who often share hometowns. I think they probably have a good sense of how often they work out.

Now, here’s why Rosenberg’s opinions matter so much. In an article like the one he wrote, the readers have to place a lot of trust in the author. We have to trust that he interviewed the sources fairly, and didn’t solicit answers that confirmed his prejudices. We have to trust that he granted his sources anonymity for good reason – not because they had an axe to grind. And we have to trust that he looked for evidence to undermine his thesis, and if it didn’t appear in his article, it’s because none could be found.

Rosenberg, with his deep connections to the anti-Rodriguez community, would be a good source of leads for an enterprising reporter to follow up on. Letting him write and report the article himself is journalistic malpractice.

Jonathan Chait is Senior Editor at The New Republic

Scott

August 31st, 2009
12:54 pm

oh, and BTW, the “files shredding” thing was the most ridiculous claim, as were most of WVU allegations of wrongdoing

The General

August 31st, 2009
12:55 pm

Michigan (and Nebraska) for that matter could have had Paul Johnson and they’d be sitting much prettier right now. What fools. Rich Rod is toast and it couldn’t happen to a cruddier pile of feces.

Phildo

August 31st, 2009
1:02 pm

Appologize for using this blog, but other Urinal-Constipation sports tidbits did not have suitable response venues. First, poor Gailey got fired from KC for lack of offense. Whodathunk? And, just when he had convinced KC that Reggie Ball would be the answer to their problems. Guess Greyhound operates there, too. Last, an article about Jon Richt throwing two TD’s for Mars Hill against North Greenville. C’mon, guys, what a waste of space. They’re both basically high school teams. Actually, the better high schools in GA, FL SC and NC would smash them both.

Ed

August 31st, 2009
1:05 pm

NCAA violations won’t be tolerated at Michigan, a stuffy (as public universities go) Big 10 school. Throw in a 3-9 season and that infamous home loss to Toledo and the natives up there will get restless fast.

GeoffDawg

August 31st, 2009
1:05 pm

General, I’m trying to eat lunch at my desk right now. Could we hold off on the scattological jokes until later in the day?

The General

August 31st, 2009
1:09 pm

Creamed chipped beef on toast?

Evil Richt 2009 S.E.C. World Tour: "Banned in Columbus"

August 31st, 2009
1:10 pm

Jon Chait is embarrassing himself. Nice rape comparison Jon.

Brad in Jasper

August 31st, 2009
1:10 pm

I agree Jeff, the workout thing to me really isn’t news. If he truly has a weak connection with the Big Blue Nation, most notably those inside the team, then his time in AA will be limited (Ann Arbor, he may take up drinking though, I dunno). Think of Petrino in Atlanta – nah, it can’t be that bad. Would be a huge step even further back for one of the historically big programs in the country.

UGASlobberknocker

August 31st, 2009
1:15 pm

If I were West Virginia..I might try to start working on a strategy to get him back there. Their new coach is a bumbling idiot…if he would go back there with hat in hand..they would rehire him in a minute. They wont get anyone better.

GeoffDawg

August 31st, 2009
1:17 pm

Greasy pork sandwich served on a dirty ashtray.

GeoffDawg

August 31st, 2009
1:19 pm

UGASlobberknocker – the fans and the students may want him back but I can’t imagine the administration and/or the board of regents would allow somebody involved in a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the university back on the payroll. He’s probably pariah numero uno.

Leon "Pooch-Kick" Trotsky

August 31st, 2009
1:29 pm

Scott,

That was worse than reading War and Peace

Word has it...

August 31st, 2009
1:29 pm

…that IF Rich Rod is forced out right now at UM then Petrino will be the next coach of the Wolverines before the first game this weekend!

Jeff Schultz

August 31st, 2009
1:48 pm

MatthewH – I have to admit, the throught of Petrino being turned in by players passed through my wishful mind.

Scott – I have no idea who John Chait is so I can’t vouch for his credibility or expertise on this subject. But I do know Rosenberg personally and he’s solid. That said, everybody’s entitled to their opinion.

Leon – Did you read War and Peace? My parents had it on their shelf but I could never get myself to pull the trigger (no pun intended).

Otto

August 31st, 2009
1:50 pm

Very few if anyone at WVU wants RR. Petrino is almost as likely to be hired back by the Falcons. Also I don’t blame RR for leaving, word was he constantly asked for facilities upgrades so he could get recruits and was not getting them. The only quetion I have for Petrino is why go to the Falcons in the first place? Detroit would have more promise for him.

Les Miles may still make a trip to Michigan. He will be on the hot seat at LSU by the end of next season if not this season.

Scott of course it is just about mandatory if a player wants chemistry with teammates and to compete for playing time, you will spend as much time practicing as possible

m

August 31st, 2009
2:02 pm

RichRod should have come to the sec…his cheating would have fit right in. And his hype would have too.

Ken Stallings

August 31st, 2009
2:41 pm

Jeff, the NCAA opened up the Pandora’s Box when they allowed the “voluntary” work outs. The problem is with such an unregulated exception that exists on the honor system, there’s the line between voluntary and “voluntary with a wink and a boot!”

The NCAA could easily solve the problem by making practice limits mandatory, really mandatory. From my perspective, 20 hour a week during classes is a reasonable balance. The problem comes in because coaches are always seeking competitive advantages.

There are two ways to achieve a competitive advantage through practice. The coaching staff can make them more effective and efficient, or they can expand the times. Most coaches do both and most likely do a more ethical job of keeping the extra sessions truly voluntary.

However, the NCAA should have long ago stepped in and ended the voluntary workouts, most of them are weight training and film study. But that’s time away from classes and the whole reason to limit the practice sessions was to put the “athlete” back in the title of student-athlete.

These guys are still students first and amateur athletes second. That’s a quaint notion, but it’s the blunt truth. And while we watch and report on the game, we should bear that truth in mind.

Nativebird

August 31st, 2009
3:19 pm

…there’s no CRYING IN FOOTBALL!

daves

August 31st, 2009
3:25 pm

Jeff,

You discount the Chait response as a mere “opinion” and personally vouch for Rosenberg, but you don’t respond to any of the points that Chait raised. The “anonymous” sources turned out to be not anonymous after all, and these current players claim their words were twisted. Clemons recently transferred and has an axe to grind. None of them, including Rosenberg, seem to understand what a non-countable football hour is. Do you?

Scott

August 31st, 2009
3:31 pm

Jeff, Rosenberg has made no bones about his personal dislike of Rodriguez (he’s an OPINION columnist, so that’s his prerogative), so posing as an investigative journalist and claiming major allegations is ridiculous, and his motives transparent. notice how in the article Rosenberg never discerns between voluntary/involuntary time (which is the crux of the allegation), only that the players are working really hard and spending a lot of time in the facilites.

furthermore, UM compiance records suggest there was no wrongdoing, and in 20 years of coaching RR has never been in trouble once (what, all the sudden he’s a great big cheater? doubtful.)

this article spits in the face of actual journalism. it’s disgraceful

Warren Peace

August 31st, 2009
3:38 pm

Did someone mention me in a sports blog. Oh my day has been made.

Jeff Schultz

August 31st, 2009
3:43 pm

Otto – Ninety percent of the reason Petrino wanted to go to the Falcons for the chance to coach Michael Vick.

Ken – I agree. You either make practices mandatory or you ban them all together.

Daves – what “points” were those? The Free Press quoted players (although I would have preferred if they weren’t anonymous). Regardless of what you think a reporter’s opinion is, he didn’t put words in their mouths. I can vouch for Michael Rosenberg as a journalist. I can’t vouch for the other guy, that’s all I’m saying.

Bob Horner had a sweet compact swing

August 31st, 2009
3:50 pm

Leon…..thanks for the belly laugh man…that was a hilarious post..~!!! good stuff

Nativebird

August 31st, 2009
4:00 pm

Watch out Wolverine fans, the last time Coach Rich cried (with tears and everything) like this was the a$$ whoopin he got from Pittsburgh on the eve of his beloved yet denied Hyped-up Nat’l Championship game ranking at WVU. Instead of being a Man, assuming responsibility and lead his team by example, He promptly wept like a little girl, blamed everyone and everything beside himself, and hauled bu++ to cash-in on the overHyped-Coach Machine that ESPN had built for him.
This type of choke-up in front a camera is a sure sign the ground under ol Coach Rich’s feet is getting hot. Next Stop!………??

daves

August 31st, 2009
4:08 pm

Jeff,

Thanks for responding. It’s good us commenters are being heard. Chait’s point were 1) Rosenberg is biased against Rodgriguez and this bias should be acknowledged 2) the article made no attempt to define what the NCAA considers to be voluntary and involuntary and how these are applied throughout the league. It appears that the current player “anonymous” sources were freshman Je’ron Stokes and Brandin Hawthorne. It appears they publicly acknowledged their comments and thought they were being interviewed about how hard they were working, and not in a bad way. To make them sound anonymous casts their statements in a bad light. The former players likely have axes to grind. When the truth comes out I think Rodriguez will be vindicated once again.

TMD

August 31st, 2009
4:35 pm

Just want to defend WVU a bit here. The upgrades he wanted were made, and are very visible. The facilities at West Virginia are some of the best in the country. Rod wanted his own pay website and for his players to be able to sell their books for money, among other things. The AD said no, and it has since been deemed illegal by the NCAA. Also, Michigan denied him these things.

Finally, Coach Stew is going to surprise some folks this year. He went 9-4 in a disappointing year (not bad for a down year), but was also breaking in an all new staff and new offensive scheme. There were hiccups along the way, but eventually they found their way. The season could have easily been 12-1 with a few good bounces of the ball. Don’t forget, “The Product” went 3-9 his first year with some solid players. He was certainly not immune to mistakes.

Dawg fans, seems there still some bitterness about the ‘05 Sugar Bowl in your back yard. It seems that bashing a team that beat you on your home turf on national television would also be an insult to your beloved team, but then again I’m just a Hillbilly, so what do I know?

DP

August 31st, 2009
4:45 pm

I read Jonathan Chait’s piece and figured he has to be a graduate of the University of Michigan to get so worked up about this piece. A quick search reveals that he is. As long as he’s on a rant about journalistic ethics, I think that might be worth disclosing.

Nativebird

August 31st, 2009
4:48 pm

The only real rule Rodriquez broke is that he keeps crying like a little baby. Literally, he weeps like a little girl. Coach, there is NO crying in football. Cmon, Man up. Get a pair.

Jeff Schultz

August 31st, 2009
5:00 pm

Daves
– I can’t speak to Rosenberg’s perceived bias. I can only speak to his credibility, which goes to his ability to separate opinion when he’s reporting.
– The NCAA has clearly defined periods when teams are allowed to practice and how many hours of training can be mandated. I don’t know those off hand but the Free Press had so many stories Sunday that I would be stunned if that wasn’t covered.

Bob Vance

August 31st, 2009
5:10 pm

What Michigan players? Ones who left the program and had an axe to grind against the coach?? Get a life… Here’s a quote from a Michigan State freshman “A typical day consists of showing up for meetings as early as 7:30 a.m. and being dismissed after our final meeting at 9:30 p.m. In those 14 hours, we have meetings, practice, lunch, more meetings, film sessions, dinner and meetings.” I demand a full-scale investigation! Or how about we move on with our lives and tell Michael Rosenberg that he’s a D-Bag.

Ty

August 31st, 2009
6:37 pm

Are all you UM supporters going to blame the Detroit Free Press and its writers for all of your transferrs and decommits too?? Amazing that you still support this guy, despite all of the evidence contrary. Yeah, we all know your refrain by heart by now…..It’s the media’s fault, it’s disgrunteled players fault, those decommits are lazy and weak (Even though after they transfer, they are able to START at schools like Ohio State), gee whiz, everyone else does it, it’s bias against our increadibly awesome, number one, greatest of all time school, it’s jealosy, blah, blah, blah……Perhaps it’s time to actually take a honest look at your program and bad hire of a coach for a change, but that would be so unlike UM. Yeah, much easier to blame everyone else on the planet.

Quentin Zoerhof

August 31st, 2009
6:40 pm

A lot of the Rodrigues-worshipping bloviators haven’t been paying very close attention. The Detroit Free Press tried also to form an impression of what had previously gone on under Lloyd Carr at Michigan and currently goes on under Mark Dantonio at Michigan State. What was found is that the programs under Carr and Dantonio were/are vastly different than what goes on with Rodrigues. Others go up to the line and maybe a tad over. But Rodrigues basically ignores it. I am confident that when they do an honest review they will find sanctionable violations. That is what I am hearing. In fact, ESPN is reporting now that it has spoken with 3 former players who confirm the allegations. Is there an anti-Rodrigues faction you bet and there should be. Rodrigues may be a talented coach, but like John Calapari he’s a serial envelope pusher.

Bob

August 31st, 2009
8:48 pm

So, they are setting the guy up to get fired?

Rich Wolf

August 31st, 2009
9:45 pm

A desperate story written by a desperate reporter in a newspaper that will soon be out of business.

Doug

September 1st, 2009
12:08 pm

Yet another uninformed reporter piling on and covering for his brethren sports reporters. I will ignore the WVU stuff which has been long proven to be nonesense because I assume you are either willfully ignorant, incapable of research, or just not bright enough to see the truth.

You assume current and former players ran to the Free Press to complain. Do you have proof of this? Of course not. What we do know is that the only two current players named in the report are two freshmen who were niavely answering questions from a reporter about how hard they work. This unscrupulous reporter then twisted their words to fit his story, which he failed to reveal to them when questioning. The other unnamed sources are former players who just might actually have an axe to grind.

But you don’t question whether Rosenberg may have acted unethically in his reporting…or if the former players are lying. No, that would mean criticizing one of your own.

When a politician makes an accusation against another, the media analyzes the source. When a reporter makes an allegation…and this is Rosenberg’s allegation…the media ignores the source altogether. Pathetic.

daves

September 1st, 2009
6:24 pm

Jeff,

If you’re still checking these comments, here is a well-respected sports journalists’ opinion on what Rosenberg did wrong. He lays it better than I could.

http://www.michigan.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=982971

Ken Stallings

September 1st, 2009
8:14 pm

Jeff Schultz doesn’t really need me to step in to defend him, but both bloggers here who have asserted bias on the part of the sports columnist/reporter who broke the story has relied upon blog sites devoted to Michigan athletics. Folks, that’s hardly objective sourcing!

The NCAA’s intent behind the voluntary sessions are to facilitate physical therapy on injuries, film study, and one-on-one workouts. The players quoted seem to indicate something much more was routinely going on and the group organized workouts were mandatory.

My read of the original news article showed the sources were varied if understandably anonymous. One good thing has already come from the article.

ESPN has focused attention of the issue and reported the average “work week” of college football players is 40-50 hours! That’s ridiculous people! These are student-athletes and they need time to study to pursue a meaningful degree program and earn the sheepskin. Let’s bear in mind a reality that only a few out of a hundred Div-1A players will suit up for an NFL regular season roster. A few more will earn chump change as a practice squad player or as a non-roster invitee to camp.

Therefore 95% of the players of even a quality Div-1A starting roster must plan on his degree as his primary meal ticket in adult life. It is the height of hypocricy for a Div-1A coach (or any other level coach) to claim a college job and stick their young men with more than the average workload of an adult male’s primary career!

It’s even worse during the summer practice sessions where players tend to put in 12 to 13 hours at practice facilities every day! I knew the life of a Div-1A football player was very tough and demanding, but actually underestimated the demands they submit to. It is too much.