Anticipating the fallout
In today's print edition, The Detroit Free Press published on the front page of the paper potentially explosive revelations regarding alleged NCAA violations committed by Coach Rod and his staff. Michigan's Football Program has never suffered a major NCAA sanction. Michigan has always been considered to be very strong in self-policing and has generally dealt with potential violations in any of its Athletic programs by instituting self-imposed penalties prior to the NCAA levying harsh sanctions for any misconduct. In this situation, the University is taking the gambit to dismiss the allegations out-of-hand rather than get out front of the situation.
Judy Van Horn, the Associate Athletic Director for Compliance, released a statement on behalf of the University which stated as follows:
During the season, the NCAA limits ‘countable’ practice activities to 20 hours per week. There are activities that don’t count, such as rehab and getting taped. We educate our coaching staffs and student-athletes (in all sports) to keep everyone informed of the rules. Also, compliance and administrative staff conduct in-person spot checks of practice during the academic year and summer. We have not had any reason to self-report any violations in this area with any of our sports.
This is the second time in the past two years that the Michigan Football Program has been the target of a newspaper's expose regarding potential NCAA violations. In March, 2008, the (now defunct) Ann Arbor News published a four-day series of alleged academic violations that occurred during Coach Carr's tenure. The University strongly denied those allegations and ultimately the Ann Arbor News' 7-month long investigation resulted in nothing more than a minor flap and certainly no action from the NCAA.
The University's administration (i.e., President Mary Sue Coleman, A.D. Bill Martin, and Assoc. A.D. for Compliance Judy Van Horn) are largely relying on Coach Rod's intepretation of the rules and his belief that there has been no violations committed. Coach Rod's official statement, released through the University, stated: "We know the practice and off-season rules, and we stay within the guidelines. We follow the rules and have always been completely committed to being compliant with all NCAA rules." However, this is not the first time the Administration has had to rely on Coach Rod's interpretation of rules. When Coach Rod first arrived at Michigan he assured the Michigan administration (i.e., Pres. Coleman and A.D. Martin) that he should not have to pay the full buy-out provision of $4 Million to West Virginia University. Subsequently, Coach Rod and WVU became embroiled in nasty litigation and it was widely seen from the start that, despite his indignant responses to the contrary, Coach Rod had no real legal defense. His reading of the contract was self-serving and was not going to convince anyone. Rather quickly, as everyone remembers, the U of M got dragged into the middle of this litigation nightmare. Ultimately, after months of bad press, the matter was settled with WVU getting every single penny of the $4 Million it was owed. Once burned, twice shy. The administration should rely on Coach Rod's interpretation of rules at its own peril.
Thus, the University is in a quandry. Does it act quickly on its own to get out front of potential sanctions or does it deny the allegations and hope they blow over as happened with the alleged academic scandal? The University clearly seems to have chosen the latter course. If the allegations of NCAA rules violations by Coach Rod turn out to have merit then the penalties imposed by the NCAA could be stiffer as a result of the University's failure to act on its own. The University is pinning its beliefs on Coach Rod who does not have a sterling track record of integrity. That is a scary feeling. Go Blue!
UPDATE: (Sunday evening, 8/30/09)- Athletic Director Bill Martin announced earlier today that the University of Michigan has launched an investigation into allegations that its football program regularly violates NCAA rules limiting how much time players can spend on training and practice. A.D. Martin's announcement was made in response to the allegations contained in today's print edition of The Detroit Free Press. In a written statement, Martin said, "We are committed to following both the letter and the intent of the NCAA rules and we take any allegations of violations seriously." Martin further stated, "We believe we have been compliant with NCAA rules, but nonetheless we have launched a full investigation of the allegations in today's newspaper." Martin also said that the school had reached out to both the Big Ten and the NCAA about the allegations. He said the university would have more to say after its inquiry was done. Thus, the University administration appears to be now hedging its bets as they try to stay out front of this issue in case the allegations prove to have some merit. Go Blue!