Updated 7:30 p.m.: Rich Rodriguez defends University of Michigan's practices against NCAA violation allegations
Speaking in an emotional press conference six days before he begins his second football season at Michigan, coach Rich Rodriguez said Monday that neither he nor his assistant coaches have ever broken NCAA rules. “We know the rules, and we comply with the rules,” he said.
Rodriguez paused several times to compose himself during a 14-minute opening statement that addressed reports Michigan had exceeded limits on practice time set by the NCAA. Such conduct, Rodriguez said, would go “against everything I have ever believed in coaching.” Michigan has launched an investigation into the charges, which were first published Saturday by the Detroit Free Press. U-M athletic director Bill Martin said he has established no timetable for completing that review. The Big Ten Conference and NCAA may also investigate. In Michigan’s review process, most, if not all, of members of the football team will speak with university compliance officers, Martin told the Wolverines. Martin did not comment Monday, except to briefly express his confidence in Rodriguez, who has had a turbulent 19-month tenure as coach. “I’m all in for Rich Rodriguez,” Martin said. The Free Press reported: Â· Coaches attended voluntary non-contact seven-on-seven scrimmages during offseason workouts, in violation of NCAA rules. Â· Players practiced two to three times the number of hours permitted for football-related offseason activities. Â· The coaching staff broke NCAA limits on daily and weekly hours allowed for football-related activity during the football season. While current and former players told the Free Press the team worked as many as nine hours on Sundays last season - the NCAA limit is four hours per day - Rodriguez said his practices never exceeded one hour. He attributed the discrepancy to players perhaps misunderstanding what the NCAA considers a countable hour - duties such as receiving treatment for injuries are not counted toward the limit.
What bothered Rodriguez more than the statements from players was the perception that he and his staff cared more about the on-field product at the expense of players’ academic commitments. “I, as a coach, have never hindered that,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes. “I have never, and nobody on my staff will ever, tell a young man to miss a class or miss a study session or tutor appointment to do anything athletically. “Never have, never will.” During his remarks, Rodriguez repeatedly expressed his support for strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis, who ran many of the workouts in question. The pair worked together for seven years at West Virginia before Barwis joined Rodriguez at Michigan in December 2007. “I have complete trust in him, and I think he’s absolutely the best strength and conditioning coach in the country,” Rodriguez said. Senior offensive tackle Mark Ortmann said he talked with Barwis about the allegations, and he believes Michigan will be cleared of any wrongdoing. “One on one, he told me he knows we’re working hard, and that he has the paperwork to support what we’ve done,” Ortmann said. Barwis could not be reached for comment Monday. Rodriguez said under Barwis, some players showed such enthusiasm to voluntarily work out on Saturdays and Sundays, that they called coaches and asked them to unlock Schembechler Hall. “So we make sure a strength coach is in there, so they don’t drop a weight on their foot,” Rodriguez said. “Then a strength coach says, ‘Coach, I’ll go in there if you want me to go in there.’” Ortmann said a close-knit group of players has developed around Barwis. Many players join the strength coach and his family for services each Sunday at Keystone Community Church in Saline. “It’s nice, because you see the coaches in an atmosphere beyond Schembechler Hall,” Ortmann said. “It really helps us for the rest of the week, because when the pressures of football really build up, (church) really just helps keep me level-headed.” Ortmann and other players said Monday those pressure will not be amplified by the current allegations - if anything it reinforces their desire to continue to work hard and improve after last season’s 3-9 record, Michigan’s first losing season since 1967. “They’re saying that we’re working too much, and personally, I don’t think we’re working hard enough,” Ortmann said. “I know how serious Coach Rod is taking these allegations. From a player perspective, I know what we do on and off the field, and I see none of that as illegal.” Will the allegations be a distraction when the Wolverines host Western Michigan at 3:30 p.m. Saturday? Rodriguez would like to unequivocally say no, but acknowledged he must address them. “It’s disheartening to fight obstacles that aren’t really there, that shouldn’t be there,” he said. “There’s been a lot of unnecessary drama.”