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2010-11-05

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NCAA imposes sanctions, three-year probation on Michigan football program

By Kyle Swanson, Daily News Editor
Published November 4, 2010

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has announced that it has placed the Michigan football program on a three-year probation.

During a conference call yesterday with University officials and members of the media, Paul Dee, chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, said the penalties from the NCAA also include a public scolding and censure of the University and a stipulation that Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez must attend the 2011 NCAA Regional Rules Seminar. Additionally, University officials imposed reductions to the amount of time the Michigan football team can practice — 130 hours in total through the end of the 2011-2012 academic year.

Experts interviewed by The Michigan Daily said the additional one year of probation on top of what the University had self-imposed didn't seem out of line for the nature of the case. They also said it was important to note that the NCAA had downgraded the charge against Rodriguez from a charge that he had failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance to the finding that he failed to adequately monitor his program.

The initial allegation against Rodriguez that he had failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance, Dee said, was changed to a violation of NCAA Constitution 2.8.1 because the committee felt that Rodriguez failed to properly oversee the program, not that he failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

Asked during the call about what level of responsibility should be placed on Rodriguez, Dee compared Rodriguez to the captain of a ship.

“The coach is ultimately responsible, but that doesn’t mean that the coach is involved in all of the activities," Dee said. "Consequently, some of the things that did occur did not get all the way to the coach."

At a University press conference following the NCAA conference call, University President Mary Sue Coleman said the University had taken the investigation seriously from the first day and that she was proud of how the University cooperated with the NCAA.

“To the University of Michigan (this) could not be more serious,” Coleman said.

But Coleman made it clear that such violations should never have happened.

“They should not have occurred,” Coleman said of the violations, adding that corrective measures have been implemented.

Speaking at the press conference, Athletic Director David Brandon said he was happy the process was over and that he wasn’t surprised by the NCAA’s findings.

“There will be no appeals because there’s nothing to appeal,” Brandon said. "They're major violations, absolutely. We've admitted to them and we're moving forward."

However, Brandon stressed that at no time was the welfare of student-athletes put in danger. Brandon cited a “very high-profile story” reported by a local newspaper, which he did not name, that suggested the football program was putting student-athletes at risk.

In August 2009, the Detroit Free Press published a report alleging wrongdoing on the part of the football program. The story led both the NCAA and the University to launch investigations into the program.

“The article quoted several unnamed sources and extracted several quotes from several named individuals that were made at different times and in many cases completely different contexts,” Brandon said at the press conference. “We strongly believe that a detailed and thorough investigation would prove these allegations to be false and misleading, and based on our internal investigation and the extensive investigation conducted and now completed by the NCAA, this important issue has been addressed.”

But Brandon made clear that he did accept full responsibility for the charges and the penalties issued by the NCAA.

“We were absolutely guilty of a failure to monitor,” Brandon said of the institution and officials at the University.

Brandon said he was pleased that the NCAA agreed with the University that Rodriguez did not fail to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

“We all know and we recognize that we made mistakes,” Brandon said. “But we felt it was important for us to take a strong position on that.”

Reading a statement at the press conference, Rodriguez said he was happy the process is over.

“Certainly I’m glad this process has come to a close,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve worked hard to ensure that internal breakdowns do not happen again.”

Rodriguez added that he's relieved to be done with the NCAA investigation and hearing and that he's focused on Michigan's game against Illinois this weekend.

Asked about her evaluation of the Michigan football program, Coleman said she was “proud” of it and happy to have Brandon leading the Athletic Department, hinting that it would be up to Brandon to make any necessary changes in the Athletic Department.

“This is ultimately his call,” Coleman said.

However, Coleman added that she viewed this case very differently from the University's previous violations of NCAA rules and regulations by its men's basketball program.

Michael Buckner, an attorney who consults with universities in NCAA-related cases, told The Michigan Daily in an interview yesterday that he felt the NCAA’s ruling and sanctions were fitting.

“I think that the committee’s sanctions were very appropriate considering the violations they found,” Buckner said, explaining that the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions considers not only the severity of the violations but also the level of cooperation provided by the institution throughout the investigation and what sanctions were self-imposed.

“It’s apparent by the tone and tenor of the infractions report that the committee believed an extra year of probation was the most appropriate sanction in this case,” Buckner added.

Buckner said it was also important to note the committee’s decision to change the charge leveled against Rodriguez from failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance to failure to effectively monitor the program.

“The committee did not feel that coach Rodriguez’s actions rose to that standard in the bylaws,” Buckner said. “Though that still is a major rules violation … it wasn’t as serious as what everyone once believed.”

Michael Jones, an attorney who also consults with universities under investigation by the NCAA, agreed, saying a violation under NCAA Bylaw 2 was less serious than Bylaw 11, meaning the outcome was more favorable for the University than the original set of allegations.

“Bylaw 11 sanctions were specifically designed to hold head coaches more accountable for specific oversight,” Jones said. “In my opinion, a finding of just a lack of monitoring … my takeaway is that it’s less serious.”

Jones added that though he wasn’t familiar with the specific elements of the University’s hearing before the Committee on Infractions, he cited two possible reasons for the bylaw change.

“It’s very possible that the work of the coach and the institution involved had something to do with there being a different citation involved,” Jones said. “Or it could very well be that the nature of the information that got shared at the hearing simply convinced the committee that a different bylaw was the more appropriate one to cite.”

Buckner told the Daily in the past that the University was aptly positioning itself to leave its options open regarding Rodriguez’s employment as Michigan’s football coach.

He told the Daily yesterday that Coleman’s remarks at yesterday's press conference reaffirmed their strategy to continue fully supporting Rodriguez so that no one can say he’s receiving anything less than full support from the institution.

“They’re going to wait,” Buckner said. “They’re not going to rush to any hasty judgment as to the future employment of coach Rodriguez.”

Buckner explained, “They had a major rules violation in place, so they could exercise the termination with cause, but it appears that the president is going to give her AD enough latitude in order to facilitate a full assessment of coach Rodriguez’s program both on the field and off the field.”

Jones noted that going forward University officials will likely amplify efforts around its compliance office to ensure it avoids the threat of having another violation occur within the window of the repeat violator statute.

“If another violation occurs, they will be a repeat violator,” Jones said. “That alone puts you in a position where you have to be redoubling your efforts.”

However, he added that no matter what a program’s history with the NCAA is, every program in the country must constantly evolve its compliance efforts to stay up-to-date and in compliance with NCAA rules and regulations.

“Every compliance program in the nation always has to be constantly evaluating and tweaking its program,” Jones said. “No one is above that. It’s ongoing.”

Yesterday's announcements, which come after the University imposed voluntary sanctions on itself in response to charges from the NCAA and testified before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, resolves more than 14 months of controversy surrounding allegations of misconduct in the Michigan football program.

In the NCAA's report of findings, officials wrote that the violations were serious but less extensive than first reported.

"The committee noted that the violations of the daily and weekly countable hour rules, though serious, were far less extensive than originally reported that no student-athletes were substantially harmed," officials wrote in their report.

The controversy began following the Detroit Free Press article in August 2009, which led University administrators to start an investigation into possible misconduct.

In October 2009, the NCAA followed suit, notifying the University that it would conduct its own investigation of the Michigan football program for potential violations of NCAA rules and regulations.

In February, the NCAA sent the University a formal notice of allegations that outlined five primary violations it believed had occurred. The University promptly held a press conference and said it took responsibility for all the allegations, with the exception of the charge that Rodriguez “failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance” within the program.

The other charges — that the Athletic Department did not appropriately oversee the program, that the program exceeded the number of hours student-athletes practiced and the number of coaches who worked with them, that staff in the Athletic Department monitored student-athletes during voluntary workouts against NCAA policy and that a graduate assistant football coach lied to NCAA investigators — were not contested by the University.