On Thursday, the book was finally closed on the Michigan football program’s first black mark in its history.
There were no surprises in the NCAA’s investigation’s ultimate findings regarding major violations. Back in May, Michigan responded to allegations made by the NCAA and proposed self-imposed sanctions. The final penalties weren’t too far off.
“I’m glad the process is over so it can no longer be used as a thing that’s hanging over the program from a negative recruiting standpoint,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “That’s why I’m glad this process is over and we can move on.”
While the punishment has been determined, questions regarding Rodriguez’s job security still persist. Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon reiterated his support of Rodriguez again on Thursday. But his job will be assessed at the end of the season, Brandon said, just like every other coach.
“I have said ad nauseam that I have a process for all of our coaches and all of our sports,” the athletic director said. “And at the end of the season, we sit down and review an enormous amount of information that is at my disposal that pertains to all aspects of the programs. And at that point, obviously I have decisions to make as it relates to who coaches any of our sports and our coaches have a decision to make as to whether they want to continue to coach at Michigan.
“The situation with our football program is no different than our other 26 sports in that regard. And that’s what I’ll do at the end of this season and the season after that and the season after that.”
The rumblings calling for Rodriguez’s job grew louder last Saturday after Michigan’s 41-31 loss against Penn State. Now in the middle of a three-game losing streak, the Wolverines’ 2010 season draws comparisons to 2009’s downfall, which included seven Big Ten losses in a row.
Rodriguez and his players have had to answer questions since early September about avoiding what happened last year. The unfortunate reality for Rodriguez is that despite his fast starts these past two seasons, he still just has four Big Ten wins and a 13-19 record overall.
Given that situation, committing major NCAA violations under Rodriguez’s watch only creates more negative media attention and groaning from fans.
Brandon boiled down Michigan’s violations to a misunderstanding regarding the rules of practice time and members of the quality control staff, who were “overzealous” and acted as coaches. Additionally, there was the issue of the University and the football staff failing to monitor those mistakes.
Over an extended period of time, the Wolverines exceeded the maximum amount of countable hours for athletic-related activity by 65 hours. Brandon said that 57 of those hours were committed due to misinterpretations of the rules involving stretching and warm-ups. The extra time — which Brandon was quick to point out was counted in minutes, not hours — added up incrementally.
Based on those violations, there were four penalties levied that will affect Rodriguez and the program: public reprimand and censure, three years probation (one more year than Michigan self-proposed) and a reduction of 130 hours of countable, athletically related activity hours over a specific period of time. Rodriguez must also attend the 2011 NCAA Regional Rules Seminar.
Of those 130 hours that the Wolverines will lose, 32 of them have already been accounted for and Rodriguez said that all of them should be complete by the end of next summer — about nine months ahead of the deadline.
The most pressing results might be the added pressure on Michigan’s head coach. It’s not just about wins and losses when Brandon sits down to evaluate his coaches.
“Wins and losses matter,” Brandon said. “So does the management of your staff. So does the pipeline of recruits. So does the academic performance of your student athletes. So does the academic performance of your prospective student athletes. So does the conduct of your student athletes. There’s a lot of statistical measures in athletics. There’s no lack of information. And there’s no lack of benchmarking opportunities to look at other programs in similar positioning that we are in, in any of one of our 27 sports.”
Michigan is still one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since Rodriguez took over the program in 2008. The Wolverines had made a record-34 straight bowl appearances prior to that year. And there is still time to impress with matchups against highly-ranked Ohio State and Wisconsin remaining on the 2010 schedule.
“We still have a season to play,” Brandon said. “We still have several important games to play, that will be great tests for our football program. Let’s just go play the games. And let’s let our coach and our players be focused on the task at hand. And then at the end of the season, we’ll do what we do at the end of every season: we’ll review and see where we’ve gotten better and where we need to improve.”