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Thoughts on responses by UM, Rodriguez

5/25/2010

Michigan begins its official response to the NCAA's Notice of Allegations with a sobering statement.

The University of Michigan ("the University"), which fielded its first football team in 1878, has won more football games than any institution, all without a major infractions case. After more than 130 years, the University's football program is before the Committee on Infractions for the first time. The University admits the violations in fact occurred. The University is disappointed that its history of no major infractions cases in its football program has ended.

It can't be easy for Michigan fans or anyone associated with the football program to read those words.

In its response, Michigan admits that four of the NCAA's five allegations against the program are true, including the "failure to adequately monitor its football program to ensure compliance" regarding the number, duties and activities of countable football coaches as well as time limits for CARA (countable athletically related activities).

While much of the language in the response is harsh, the self-imposed penalties aren't too severe.

  • Michigan reduced its quality staff by 40 percent -- from five to three -- and will prohibit it from attending practices, games or meetings for the rest of 2010. Despite a new NCAA rule that allows quality control staff to attend meetings, Michigan won't allow this to happen until 2011.

  • The football program will forfeit 130 hours of practice time during the next two years. The university found that the football program exceeded limits on football activities by a total of 65 hours in 2008 and 2009, so it simply doubled the total for its self-imposed penalty.

  • Michigan will issue letters of reprimand to seven people it deems responsible for the violations: Mike Barwis, Scott Draper, Brad Labadie, Joe Parker (senior associate athletic director, development/corporate relations), Rich Rodriguez, Judy Van Horn and Ann Vollano (assistant athletic director for compliance services).

  • The university also acknowledges the dismissal of former graduate assistant Alex Herron, named in one of the NCAA's allegations for "providing false and misleading information" to both NCAA and Michigan investigators. Herron was fired after Michigan received the NCAA's Notice of Allegations in February.

  • By admitting to major violations, Michigan knows it will go on NCAA probation for two years, which doesn't mean much unless more violations are committed.

No scholarship losses or loss of recruiting time for coaches to be found here. Will the NCAA deem this too light? We'll find out Aug. 13-14 in Seattle.

So what do we take away from all of this?

My prevailing thought: Head coach Rich Rodriguez has more support from the university that many folks think, and though these historic violations occurred on his watch, he's anything but the fall guy here. In fact, Rodriguez doesn't come off looking too bad at all.

Although Michigan's response attempts to dilute some of the violations and takes the media to the woodshed -- "the University is satisfied that the initial media reports were greatly exaggerated if not flatly incorrect" -- it disagreed with only one NCAA allegation, the one that stated Rodriguez failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The information gathered during the investigation demonstrates that Rodriguez has been committed to both compliance with NCAA bylaws and the academic success of his student-athletes during his time at the University. As the interviews of athletics staff members establish, Rodriguez has been responsive to direct requests from the CSO [University Compliance Services Office] and academic support staffs.

Michigan definitely spreads the blame around in its response. The compliance office takes a beating, as do Scott Draper, the school's assistant athletic director for football, and Brad Labadie, the school's director of football operations. I think it's significant that several of the people reprimanded don't have firm ties to Rodriguez and were at Michigan during the previous coaching regime.

The school states that the violations regarding countable coaches and countable hours for players stemmed from multiple factors: inattention by the coaching staff (led by Rodriguez), poor communication between compliance (led by Van Horn) and the strength and conditioning staff (led by Barwis) and the inability of athletic administrators (namely Draper) to inform compliance about the duties of quality control staff.

Translation: Everyone is at fault, and the violations could have been prevented if people had done their jobs better. But aside from Herron, who lost his job, no individual takes the fall. At least not yet.

Other thoughts:

  • Michigan doesn't seem concerned about being labeled a repeat violator by the NCAA. It points out the stark differences in this case and the major scandal that enveloped the Wolverines men's basketball program. It also spotlights the time gap (15 years) between when the basketball violations actually took place (1992-96) and the situation in football (2008-09).

  • In another show of support for Rodriguez and his staff, Michigan's response states that there was no evidence that student-athletes were abused or had their welfare compromised. Although the program had too many staff members involved and exceeded limits on in-season and out-of-season activities, it had honorable intentions, according to the school. It'll be interesting to see how this goes over with the NCAA.

  • Michigan points out that most of the violations took place in the offseason and didn't excessively exceed limits. Again, the school seems to be challenging the NCAA, with evidence, to show why these violations are that bad.

  • In his separate response, Rodriguez admits to some wrongdoing but also addresses the obvious confusion regarding quality control coaches and what they can and cannot do. "There seems to be some ambiguity and confusion about what constitutes coaching activity under NCAA legislation that can be conducted only by countable coaches." The NCAA is trying to get a handle on this issue and might make an example out of Rodriguez/Michigan, but it would seem a little hypocritical to do so. If there wasn't some degree of confusion (i.e. loopholes), you wouldn't see coaching staffs become as big as they are.

The combined responses of Michigan and Rodriguez total 168 pages, so there's a lot there. Rodriguez and athletic director Dave Brandon will speak to the media at 11 a.m. ET, and we'll be monitoring this story throughout the day, so check back for more.