ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The University of Michigan admitted Tuesday to a series of violations in its storied football program, saying it doesn’t believe the problems related to practice time and coaching activities are enough to warrant major punishment from the NCAA.
Athletic director David Brandon characterized the disclosure as one of relief.
“I don’t think this is a black eye,” he said. “This is a bruise.”
Michigan released more than 150 pages detailing its investigation and self-imposed sanctions it hopes will satisfy the NCAA, which will hold a hearing on the case in August. A final decision on NCAA penalties could take months, but coach Rich Rodriguez is not worried about that distracting his players.
“I don’t think this ongoing case will affect them at all,” Rodriguez said. “I think our players are very excited about the season and our staff is excited.”
The sanctions included a recommendation for two years of probation for the NCAA’s winningest football program, which is 8-16 in two seasons under Rodriguez. The school also said seven people, including Rodriguez, had been reprimanded and another was fired.
“We believe that probation is typically one of the outcomes of major violations,” Brandon said. “Probation puts your program under a microscope.”
The school said it should not be tagged as a repeat offender despite a 2003 scandal in the basketball program a key argument, since the designation would almost certainly mean harsher penalties from the NCAA.
“We’re imposing on ourselves what we believe is corrective actions,” Brandon said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Ultimately, the NCAA will decide what the appropriate sanctions and penalties are.”
NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said the governing body will not comment on the Michigan case until it is completed and its report is released.
“Typically, that happens six to 10 weeks after the hearing,” Osburn said.
Michigan said it will cut back practice and training time by 130 hours over the next two years, starting this summer. It also trimmed the number of assistants in the so-called quality-control staff from five to three and banned them from practices, games or coaching meetings for the rest of 2010.
“I’m glad to get that over with,” Rodriguez said Monday night in Midland at the Michigan AP Sports Editors Meeting. “But that is just part of the process.”
The violations came to light last fall just before Rodriguez started his a second straight losing season. Anonymous players told the Detroit Free Press that they were exceeding NCAA limits on practice and training time, prompting school and NCAA investigations.
Brandon said again that Rodriguez will be back for a third season, dismissing the for-cause clause the school could use to fire him.
The NCAA has outlined five potentially major rules violations, all related to practices and workouts. It accused Rodriguez of failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program, a charge Michigan vehemently denied even as it acknowledged an overall failure to communicate within the athletic department.
“We think that is overly harsh,” Brandon said. “We do believe that there were things he could’ve done better and Rich would be the first to agree that details he delegated shouldn’t have been in retrospect.”
Brandon said the school decided not to take away scholarships or eliminate coaching positions.
“That’s usually a result of something deemed to be an offense that created a competitive advantage,” Brandon said. “Those kind of sanctions are also typically related to academic fraud, gambling, recruiting violations and extra benefits.”
The school conceded that some of the violations “are major when considered as a whole” and are “major in part because they occurred for well over a year and, thus, were not isolated. The university has self-imposed significant penalties that correspond with the violation.”
Besides the letters of reprimand, one staffer who worked under Rodriguez at West Virginia before joining him at Michigan, Alex Herron, was fired after his claim of not being present during some activities was discredited by players.
The school said two main problems were too many people acting as coaches and too many hours being put into football by the players occurred in part because of “inattention by the football staff.”
“The university agrees that it failed as a whole to adequately monitor its football program to ensure compliance regarding the limitations upon the number, duties and activities of countable football coaches and the time limits” for practice,” it said. “The university also agrees that Rodriguez failed to satisfy the monitoring responsibilities required of head coaches.”
After his hire from West Virginia, Rodriguez filled all five quality control positions in the program essentially assistants who were paid $17 per hour to “run errands for the coaches, check on student-athlete class attendance and academic issues, and chart plays.”
The school said the staff “crossed the line in specific situations and engaged in ‘coaching activities’” as defined by the NCAA.
Rodriguez also told school investigators he didn’t know about forms used at Michigan to track athletes’ activities until last summer, 18 months after he was hired, and he said no one ever told him those forms were not being filed with compliance officials by his program.
Rodriguez’s response was submitted by his attorney, Scott Tompsett. He said the coach was “very disappointed that his administrators failed to provide the job descriptions on multiple occasions and he is disappointed that the compliance staff never brought their failure to his attention. Rodriguez has always had an open-door policy for anyone to bring matters to his attention.”
The school said it had discovered the paperwork problem and was working on it when the story broke. The bigger issue was the lack of communication. The school said the football program didn’t provide requested information to the compliance office, which failed to alert Rodriguez who “should have paid closer attention to his subordinates.”
Rodriguez regretted that he didn’t adequately monitor certain aspects of his program but added in his response that following NCAA bylaws was not a “one-man job.”
“We’re not happy to be in this process, but we’re handling it in a professional and transparent manner before we move on,” Brandon said. “The NCAA will hear our case in August then will deliberate as long as is needed and that could be weeks before making a decision that we can agree with or choose to appeal.”