Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon and Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez held a press conference today regarding the University’s self-imposed sanctions in response to an internal investigation resulting from numerous NCAA violations.
One thing Brandon made clear, despite being hired long after the accusations were first made about the team in August of 2009, was that he believed the blame lies squarely with him.
“The reality is that we had failures across the Athletic Department,” Brandon said. “I take full responsibility for what happened because I’m the director of this program.”
For the University, taking responsibility and admitting guilt in the matter was the most important issue to resolve as the violations and consequent sanctions were made public.
“I can tell you now, several months later, after completing our internal investigation, that I am even more convinced that the things that occurred, the violations, we own them, we’re not going to deny them,” Brandon said. “We’re not going to play the game of ‘Gee, someone else is doing it, so it makes it okay for us.’ We’re not going to play the game of ‘We don’t like the rules, so we shouldn’t have to follow it.’ We’re not going there. We have been found to violate certain rules with the NCAA and we’re standing up and taking responsibility for it.”
Despite the sanctions, Brandon, as well as Rodriguez, characterized today as “a day of relief,” saying he was glad everything was out in the open.
After the NCAA announced that it would conduct an investigation into the matter last October, the NCAA found the University guilty of five major violations and allowed the Athletic Department 90 days to respond. In more than 150 pages of documents released this morning, the University imposed its own set of sanctions in anticipation of inevitable NCAA sanctions to be named in August. The self-imposed sanctions include a reduction of about 130 hours of total practice time, a cut of two out of five quality control staffers and a suspension of the responsibilities of said staff members when it comes to practice, games and coaches meetings, as well as a two-year probation period. Quality control staffer Alex Herron, who was mentioned in the initial report and described by Brandon to have shown a “lack of integrity”, was fired as a result of the violations.
The probation, Brandon said, would put Michigan “under a microscope” in order to ensure complete compliance with NCAA regulations going forward.
“Probation is typically one of the outcomes of major violations,” Brandon said. “What probation primarily means is a significant amount of detailed reporting between our program and the NCAA.”
Despite the nature of the violations, namely breaching the NCAA-allotted amount of time for practice, Brandon assured that he believed none of the violations gave Michigan a competitive advantage.
“When you start talking about not counting stretching and warm-up as part of your allowable hours, it’s a violation,” Brandon said. “But I think it’s a significant leap of logic to conclude that somehow creates a competitive advantage.”
While the violations are considered major, the Athletic Department did not consider them major enough to sanction themselves with a suspension from postseason play or a loss of scholarships, based on past precedent and advice throughout the internal investigation. These scenarios, however, are punishments the NCAA may consider when it makes its decision come Aug. 13-14 when the University will take its case in front of the governing body.
“We don’t believe, nor do any of the advisers that we’ve retained who have a lot experience in this area, that those kinds of punishments would be consistent with the violations that we’ve received,” Brandon said.
While the program will be waiting the rest of the summer to hear from the NCAA, Rodriguez said from a football standpoint he isn’t worried about the sanctions becoming a distraction for his players this summer or during the season.
“I thought our players and staff did a good job of staying focused. I think our players will continue to do that,” Rodriguez said. “I really like the attitude of the team, they’ve been focused throughout this whole process. I don’t think this case will affect them at all.”
Since the original Detroit Free Press article that led to an NCAA investigation and an emotional press conference following the initial announcement of the investigation, Rodriguez has been clear that his main concern was that the allegations assumed that he had mistreated his players by forcing them to practice too much.
The investigation, Brandon assured, did not reveal any player welfare concerns or any issues regarding player abuse.
“The thing that bothered me the most when this whole thing initially started was some insinuations about student-athlete welfare,” Rodriguez said. “The thing is, all the years we’ve been together and all my years as head coach, the thing we take the most pride in is looking after the best interest of our student athletes … There are issues and mistakes were made, but there were no student athlete welfare issues. At least I can take some relief in that.”
Written into Rodriguez’s contract is a provision that gives the Athletic Department cause to terminate his contract if a major NCAA violation is committed. But Rodriguez can take relief in the fact that at least for now, the Athletic Department and Brandon continue to maintain that the coach’s job is secure.
“I have the authority to make a judgment as to whether the offenses that occurred are significant enough to trigger that clause in the contract,” Brandon said. “I said in February it didn’t, and there’s no new information today that would suggest that any of those violations have changed. So the answer is the same as it was in February.”
Throughout its 130-year history, these violations are the only major ones the Michigan football team has committed.
And while Brandon does consider it damaging to the school’s image, he believes Michigan’s brand and tradition continue to speak for themselves.
“I don’t think this is a black eye, this is a bruise,” Brandon said. “We fumbled the ball … But you have to look at the body of work at the University of Michigan. We’ve got a lot of coaches and a lot of student athletes who have worked very hard to build the brand that we’re all so proud to be associated with. I refuse to believe that because we’ve made a few mistakes here … that somehow detracts from who we are, what we’re about and the values that we’re going to continue to follow as we move forward.”