Dave Brandon on end of NCAA investigation: 'We admitted our mistakes and are moving forward'
The NCAA’s Committee on Infractions didn’t let the University of Michigan off with a scolding, but didn’t demand a pint of blood either.
In a 29-page public infractions report released Thursday, the committee admonished the football program for committing five major violations of the rules, even while noting that the two main rules violations were “relatively technical” in nature.
But committee members also served notice that they would pay close attention to the entire athletic department for the next five years, and any future violations could lead to more severe penalties.
The dichotomy noted in the committee’s report - which heavily criticized head coach Rich Rodriguez and the athletic department’s former administration - was evident in the university’s response to the punishment.
Athletic director Dave Brandon spent several minutes at a press conference talking about how the violations were for stretching and mistakes made by “junior” members of the coaching staff. He also criticized the report by the Detroit Free Press that launched the investigation, saying the university’s internal investigation and the NCAA’s instigation did not validate the charges leveled by the paper.
But then, he had to back track a little to make sure he wasn’t undermining Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman’s assertion earlier in the press conference that the university took the charges seriously.
“The (violations) are very serious,” Brandon said. “What I’m doing is appropriately framing the specific issues. There were major violations.
“We have not been whiny. We have not pointed fingers. We have not tried to rationalize what happened. We admitted our mistakes and are moving forward.”
The big picture
The last time Michigan was sanctioned by the NCAA, Coleman described the situation with words like “shame.”
On Thursday, that wasn’t the mood at all.
While Brandon, Coleman and Rodriguez weren’t jovial in their remarks, an occasional smile was seen as they talked about the NCAA findings.
They seemed relieved and glad to be done with the process.
“I’m very proud today of how we responded,” Coleman said. “I’m proud of how our coach handled this. The basketball issue related to the corruption of young people I do not put this in the same category.”
The university had plenty of reason to smile, Michael Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who works with universities on NCAA and compliance issues, said.
“Michigan got a wonderful decision. There was no type of post-season ban, no recruiting limitations. Overall, they came out relatively unscathed.”
Despite changing one of the original charges Michigan faced, the NCAA found Michigan committed five major violations - ranging from practicing too much to failing to monitor compliance with NCAA rules. It’s the first time in the football program’s history it has been found to have any major rules violations.
The committee largely agreed with Michigan’s self-imposed penalties, adding one year of probation.
“Michigan did a very good job of handling this case,” Buckner said. “They did a very good job of balancing on the tight rope of not underpenalizing themselves, but not overpenalizing themselves.”
A large part of Michigan’s defense of itself lay in spreading blame among multiple people, including Rodriguez, football administrators and the compliance department. The university issued letters of reprimand to seven employees.
The NCAA largely bought that defense.
“Overall, the strategy of diffusing the blame worked,” Buckner said.
The individual drawing the most heat in the findings report was Rodriguez, even though the committee changed the violation he was alleged to have committed.
Where the committee differed from Michigan, was in how much blame went to the compliance staff. “The efforts of the compliance staff were thorough and diligent,” the committee wrote in its report. “The compliance office educated the football and strength and conditioning staffs, made numerous attempts to get the football staff to hand in the necessary forms and involved senior members of the athletics department administration.
“The failure to monitor occurred when 1) the assistant athletic director for football and other administrators with football responsibilities withheld the job descriptions and 2) the former director of athletics (Bill Martin) and the senior associate director of athletics did not insist that the football staff immediately comply with the request of the compliance office or sanction the football staff for failure to comply.
“The compliance office attempted on numerous occasions to prod the football staff into submitting the forms. The compliance office involved the senior associate director of athletics in the attempts and it reported the problem to the former director of athletics.
“The members of the athletics administration with responsibilities in the football program continually failed to provide required forms pertaining to countable athletically related activities to the compliance services office, making it extremely difficult for the compliance office to do its job.
“Finally, the former director of athletics and the senior associate director of athletics failed to require the football staff to submit the forms as required. This collective failure partly resulted in the violations outlined in Finding B-2.”
Michigan faced a possible big problem when it appeared before the committee. Thanks to the basketball program’s issues in the 1990s, Michigan could have been tabbed as a repeat violator. That would have increased the penalties assessed to the institution.
But the committee didn’t go that way.
“The committee declines to impose enhanced penalties because, among other reasons, 1) it has been an unusually long time since the violations in the previous case occurred. The violations were not uncovered and processed until 2003, even though they occurred from 1992 to 1999.
“They came to light through the efforts of the institution, which pressed the federal authorities handling a related criminal prosecution to require certain individuals in that case to cooperate with the institution to discover the truth; 2) the violations in both this case and the previous case were limited to one sport and they were different sports; 3) there was no lack of institutional control or academic fraud found in the present matter and 4) the violations detailed in findings B- and B-2 of this report are relatively technical.”
Michigan also faced a potential reduction in penalties for cooperation with the NCAA.
In public statements during the process, and again Thursday, Brandon and Coleman repeatedly talked about how much they were cooperating with the NCAA.
But that didn’t lead to any reductions.
“The cooperation the institution demonstrated in this case must be weighed against the conduct and failures of the institution and its personnel as set forth in the findings,” the committee wrote in its report. “The committee concluded that in light of the serious nature of the violations and the failure of the institution to detect and/or prevent them, the institution’s cooperation did not warrant relief in the penalties imposed by the committee in this case.”
The committee issued punishments of public reprimand and censure, the reduction of 130 practice hours (32 hours have been reduced so far this year); three years of probation (the university had recommended two years); requiring Rodriguez attend an NCAA regional rules seminar and require annual reports on compliance.
University officials said the punishment was fair.
“We offer no excuses for the violations,” Coleman said. “They should not have occurred.”
David Jesse covers higher education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 734-623-2534.