While yesterday’s announcement that the Michigan football program allegedly violated NCAA regulations was billed as the culmination of the NCAA’s four-month long evaluation of Michigan’s Athletic Department’s compliance with NCAA rules, it was by no means the end of the process.
The NCAA’s notice of allegations, which was made public in a University press conference yesterday, was the next step in a chain of proceedings that will now span at least one year — from when the allegations were first published in the Detroit Free Press in August of 2009 until at least when the University goes before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions this upcoming August.
The University now has 90 days to formally dispute or agree with the allegations. In a series of interviews following the announcement, experts on the process, politics and implications of NCAA investigations said that while the outcome of the case is difficult to predict, most institutions typically end up agreeing with the NCAA’s findings — often resulting in penalties for the schools.
Some of the experts said the University may not face as serious repercussions as programs facing allegations pertaining to specific student-athletes.
But others said that, in cases like this, the fact that the NCAA found enough evidence to send the notice could be a bad harbinger for the University, which could ultimately be penalized with probation for a couple of years or a decrease in the number of coaches who can participate in practices.
No matter the final outcome, the experts interviewed yesterday said that University officials have a lot of heavy digging left to do and sleepless nights ahead of them before the process is finally concluded.
Josephine Potuto, chair of the NCAA Committee on Infractions from 2006 to 2008, said in an interview that NCAA allegations most often result in penalties.
“The enforcement staff at the NCAA does a pretty good job of investigating, and they should, and they’re pretty responsible about only bringing allegations where they think there’s enough evidence for the Infractions Committee to make the finding that there was a violation,” Potuto said.
Potuto — who said she couldn’t comment on the NCAA allegations specifically brought against the Michigan football team, but rather only on the general allegation and penalty process — said that typically, a university will agree with the alleged violations brought forth by the NCAA.
“There isn’t going to be an argument about did it occur, or did it not occur,” Potuto said. “The argument will be about how much responsibility should be taken here, how big was the violation and what kinds of penalties should happen.”
But until the hearing, Potuto, who is now a law professor at the University of Nebraska and represents that school on NCAA committees, said a university faced with NCAA allegations must put a lot of time into responding to the allegations.
“Between now and the Committee on Infractions hearing and any findings by the Committee on Infractions, it’s a major distraction for a university, for anybody else who’s involved,” Potuto said. “It’s going to take a lot of person hours to get together, write the response, to get together all the exhibits and that’s also true if there’s anybody at risk.”
Potuto said if allegations are made against specific individuals, a university not only has to deal with the repercussions for the institution, but also probable internal problems.
“It’s not a happy place to be in terms of negative publicity that just the allegations bring,” Potuto said.
Potuto said NCAA allegations allow an institution the opportunity to reassess its conduct and to make revisions when necessary.
“If the university is doing things right, it’s a time to really take a look at how it was doing things in the past and to consider whether there are different ways of doing things or better ways of doing things,” Potuto said. “To the extent that there are individuals who have been alleged to commit violations, the university also has personnel issues, so all that’s going on.”
The five allegations brought against the Michigan football team include exceeding the amount of permissible practice time during the on- and off-seasons and exceeding the number of coaches allowed to be present at certain activities by five coaches.
Another violation is that Alex Herron, a graduate assistant football coach, “(provided) false and misleading information to the institution and enforcement staff when questioned about his involvement in and knowledge of possible NCAA violations,” according to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations sent to University President Mary Sue Coleman.
Michigan Football coach Rich Rodriguez’s and the University’s Athletic Department’s alleged failure to monitor the football team’s compliance with the NCAA bylaws are also under review.
Though Potuto said individuals may be involved in NCAA cases like this, allegations brought against a university always “involve institutional responsibility.”
“So anything any of those people do that’s a violation of a bylaw is also the university’s violation of a bylaw, so that’s the way it works,” Potuto said.
Potuto said the allegation that the football team exceeded the number of coaches allowed to be present when “quality control staff members…engaged in on- and off-field activities” applies to the NCAA’s defining coaches not by their title, but rather by what they do.
Michael Buckner, a lawyer with Florida-based Michael L. Buckner Law Firm who provides consulting to universities on NCAA cases, said he is “surprised” at the football program’s alleged non-compliance with NCAA bylaws.
“With such a large program, and important program and prestigious program such as Michigan, when out-of-season workouts still garner attention from people across the region, I was just surprised that no one in the institution caught the fact that there were coaches, assistant coaches that were conducting several practices,” Buckner said.
Buckner said he’s surprised that the University’s compliance staff, which works to make sure the University’s athletic programs are abiding by NCAA rules, didn’t, according to the recent allegations, monitor the football team closely enough.
“Every NCAA member institution has to have a compliance officer, and in this institution because of the significant resources of the institution Michigan has, it’s important to have a large compliance staff,” Buckner said.
Buckner said he thinks the University could face penalties like probation for a two to three year period, a reduction in practice time and a decrease in the number of coaches who can participate at practices. In addition, Buckner said he thinks the University will be mandated to report to the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions on a more frequent basis.
“I think there will be some significant penalties coming up,” Buckner said.
Attorney Mark Jones worked on the NCAA’s enforcement staff for 18 years and worked as the NCAA Managing Director of Enforcement before moving to the Indianapolis-based Ice Miller Law Firm, according to the firm’s website.
Jones said in an interview yesterday that while the charges brought against the Michigan football team are a “serious matter,” it is reassuring that the allegations don’t involve student-athletes, which often result in more severe penalties for a university.
Jones — who has consulted with universities regarding NCAA allegations — said the penalties the infractions committee decides on will be based on the “competitive advantage” deduced.
Jones said the allegation regarding exceeding off-season practice times has become a commonly found violation in recent years, adding that he believes the NCAA has increased its efforts to find university infractions in this area.
“They don’t want the athletes to have the training all the time,” Jones said. “They want them to experience the student-athlete life, so to speak, and so I think there’s more attention brought to this area over the past few years.”
Jones said he’s “not shocked” by the allegations brought against the football program, though he can’t predict what the end result of the process will be.
He added that the outcome will be greatly affected by the testimonies of those who spoke with the Detroit Free Press last August for the report in which concerns over possible violations first surfaced.
“It certainly depends upon the reliability of the witnesses…,” Jones said. “If those same individuals report the same information then you conduct more inquiry and maybe it’s a basis to confirm whether the violations occurred. The individuals who talk to the media, often they don’t want to cooperate…you never know what’s going to happen.”
Student-athletes also often think they’re exceeding permissible practice time limits when in actuality this may not be the case, Jones said.
“It’s not unusual for an athlete to believe that they’re practicing or working out more than they’re supposed to under the rules,” Jones said. “Then you go and investigate it and you find out that maybe they were mistaken about how the rules were applied or maybe they didn’t really know, or maybe you talk to other athletes and they don’t cooperate, so it’s often sometimes difficult to know how to assess the evidence in those types of cases to have enough to make an allegation.”
Jones said the fates of coaches who face NCAA violations varies, so the fact that Rodriguez will remain the football coach isn’t altogether surprising, though universities sometimes follow through with “disciplinary action against coaching staff.”
“It varies from case to case and a lot of times I think it varies on the institution’s position on the violation and also the coach staff member and also the institution’s view as to whether or not there was an intent to try to get an advantage or to try and circumvent their compliance program or things of that nature,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of different factors you have to evaluate before you decide to terminate a coach. It’s a big decision and obviously Michigan didn’t think it was the appropriate thing to do this time.”
Along those same lines, Buckner said he thinks multiple University of Michigan officials should be held responsible for the alleged violations including the University’s compliance staff, Coleman, Rodriguez and the other football coaches.
“Michigan should, as any NCAA institution should, be practicing what’s called ‘sheer responsibility,’ ” Buckner said. “…Everyone shares responsibility in these violations.”
— Daily News Editor Stephanie Steinberg contributed to this report.