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Michigan allegations suggest friction remains

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The most troubling parts about the alleged NCAA rules violations that took place in Michigan's football program aren't the accusations themselves, but who made them.

You're naïve if you think every FBS program practices for no more than 20 hours a week or no more than four hours a day. You're naïve if you think members of the coaching staff don't attend voluntary 7-on-7 scrimmages during the offseason -- or receive direct reports about what happened. You're naïve if you think players aren't strongly encouraged to spend more than the required eight hours a week working out during the winter and summer.

These "violations" happen everywhere. They don't leak out publicly for two reasons.

1. The NCAA-mandated time limits for practices and workouts aren't exceeded in excess.

2. Players aren't motivated enough to speak out against their coaches and trainers.

The Michigan situation stands out because if the allegations are true, the coaches and trainers didn't merely go over the time limits for practices and workouts -- they obliterated them. If you're regularly keeping players at the football facilities for 10 to 12 hours on the Sundays after games -- as current and former Michigan players told the Detroit Free Press and ESPN.com -- you're probably asking for problems.

Then again, most college football players wouldn't raise a finger to such demands.

Colleague Bruce Feldman recently conducted a confidential players' survey for ESPN The Magazine in which he asked players: What's the one thing that you never realized about being a college football player until you actually became one?

Almost all the players talked about it being a full-time job.

"I never understood that you were signing your life away when you sign [that Letter of Intent]," one FBS quarterback told Feldman. "They control everything you do: When you wake up, when you go to bed. I get told I'm going to birthday parties for kids. You don't have a choice. You have a dictatorship. Every time we don't show up to a voluntary workout, we've got [to run] stadiums and hills. And there's no money to show for it. You definitely don't realize it when you're getting recruited and they're being all nice to you."

So this stuff happens everywhere.

But what sets Michigan apart is the willingness of current and former players to speak publicly, albeit anonymously, about the alleged time-limit violations by coaches and trainers. The comments from former players have to be qualified to a certain extent, based on their reasons for leaving the program, but the fact that current players are speaking out has to be troubling for head coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff.

Friction between players and coaches has been a hot topic at Michigan from almost the moment Rodriguez arrived. It started last spring, with Justin Boren's "family values have eroded" comments and continued as more players left the program. The question of whether players are truly buying into Rodriguez and his plan has been very much in doubt.

Here's what Rodriguez told me last week about the perception of discord within the team:

"There's always going to be some attrition when there's transition, but there's 120-something guys on the team and we've got a lot of guys that hung through there and wanted to be here. So to make a big deal out of a handful of guys that left, and some of them, frankly, weren't up on the depth chart and weren't doing real well academically as they needed to. More has been made of it than there needs to be."

Whether these allegations are true or not, the questions about friction between Michigan players and coaches will remain.

This team plays a game in six days. This team remains very young and needs leadership from veteran players and the coaching staff. For the Wolverines to win this fall, they can't have discord between players and coaches.

And let's be clear: coaches will always be judged on what happens between the lines. I doubt Rodriguez will be fired because of these allegations. The Free Press report doesn't include players saying the coaches explicitly told them the offseason workouts were mandatory.

"It was mandatory," one player said. "They'd tell you it wasn't, but it really was."

That sounds a little vague, which might save Rodriguez from major repercussions.

But if a splintered Michigan team stumbles to another sub-.500 finish this fall, these allegations could be weighed in whether to dismiss Rodriguez. All of this only reinforces the need for Rodriguez to turn things around on the field.

It begins Saturday against Western Michigan.