Finally, the suspense is over.
Nearly six months ago, when the Detroit Free Press published a report saying Michigan football players were being overpracticed, the internet was in a frenzy and Michigan fans came out in droves to talk about the once-lofty moral values of their program gone awry.
And outside of the initial backlash of the story, the reactions were the same: Don’t most football programs overpractice their players? What does overpracticing mean per se? Confusion ensued.
There were West Virginian tears. Defecting players. Angry fans. Disappointed alumni. You name it.
It seemed like just about everyone had had enough of the new direction in which Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez was taking the football program — one that had been defined by inexcusable losses, a botched drug deal and possible NCAA violations.
But with yesterday’s announcement that the football program was indeed found to have committed NCAA violations, despite a continuing firestorm of mistakes made in the RichRod era, all I can think about is how much worse the situation could be.
Looking through the five violations with a fine-toothed comb, it’s hard to find anything resembling a “major” violation.
Sure, the environment Rodriguez and the athletic department promoted may not have “assured compliance.” A graduate assistant may have lied. And the quality control assistants may have participated in a practice or two.
Hell, they may have even forgot to count stretching as part of the countable practice hours.
But when I think of major NCAA violations, I think of recruiting fraud, paying players, cheating on tests and other obvious fraudulent charges that border on criminal — not a few extra wind sprints for skipping class.
Clearly, the athletic department didn’t think there was much of a problem, either, as it stood by while Rodriguez promoted one of those quality control assistants — Adam Braithwaite — to fill the Wolverines’ vacant assistant coaching position.
In no way am I condoning the alleged actions, which incoming Athletic Director David Brandon called “internal confusion.” I’m sure there were a whole lot of confused participants in this charade. Whether they should have been so ignorant, we may never know.
But I can’t help but look out West and see schools like USC under the microscope with much more serious NCAA violations and think, “This isn’t so bad.”
In a salacious scandal that involved houses and cash for former Heisman-winner Reggie Bush as well as possible recruiting violations regarding star basketball player O.J. Mayo, the Trojans are in deep.
The difference with USC is that its football coach from when these possible violations took place — now with the Seattle Seahawks — just happened to be a patron saint of Los Angeles.
And Rich Rodriguez, well, he won’t be canonized in Ann Arbor any time soon.
Rodriguez’s stock continues to fall in an awful bout of bad karma and questionable decision-making. By now, I’m sure he realizes he’s not in West Virginia anymore.
These violations, in addition to his signing day fiasco involving blue-chip recruit and suspected felon Demar Dorsey have made his seat scolding hot in 2010.
Still, Brandon made it clear that rash decisions won’t be made this offseason on the Wolverines’ embattled coach.
“Rich Rodriguez is our football coach, and he will be our football coach,” Brandon said.
In the end, these NCAA violations will most likely have little effect in tarnishing the Michigan tradition. Sure, the Wolverines will no longer have the spotless record they once had. And there’s something to be said about the program’s image, in that sense.
Truth be told though, a slap on the wrist, probation and a few docked scholarships probably won’t do much to derail the entity that is Michigan football.
It’s Rodriguez who stands to suffer from this. After all, for a coach who has already pushed his luck with the Michigan fan base, with the baggage of a $2.5 million buyout from Morgantown and little on-the-field success, these violations could be the straw that broke the camel’s back come next offseason.
-Kartje can be reached at email@example.com