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Posted on Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 6:05 a.m.

At stake for Michigan football program in NCAA case: practice time, probation

By David Jesse


Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez, shown leading his team onto the field for the spring game in 2008, will face questions in August from the NCAA regarding his program. (File photo)

Sitting in a hotel conference room near Metro Airport in April 2008, Rich Rodriguez defended himself when a West Virginia University attorney asked him about following NCAA rules as the Mountaineers' head football coach.

Rodriguez said he always followed NCAA rules, saying at one point, “I take great pride in that … as my staff has for many, many years.”>

This August, Rodriguez again will be in a hotel conference room answering questions about his program. This time, the questions will come from the NCAA, which has filed five major rules violations against Rodriguez and his University of Michigan football program.


One of them, an allegation that Rodriguez failed to foster an atmosphere of compliance in his program, has been brought against six other coaches in the five years since the rule was enacted, according to an analysis of the 149 NCAA rules infractions cases settled since 2000.

In its review and in discussions with 10 former members of the NCAA enforcement staff and infractions committee, found penalties for the violation have included a loss of practice time with the team, loss of recruiting visit time and being required to attend an NCAA rules seminar.

Officials designed the rule to place more responsibility on the head coach when violations occur, said Mark Jones, chair of the Collegiate Sports Practice at the Indianapolis law firm of ICE Miller and the former managing director of enforcement for the NCAA.

“You’ll probably see it more often going forward,” he said. “It used to be that if you thought the head coach was asleep at the wheel, the only rule to cite them on (was loss of institutional control). Now we have a better rule.”

Michigan also could face the loss of scholarships, loss of practice time and probation, the review of similar cases shows.

Bruce Kirsh, vice president and athletic director at Franklin Pierce College and a member of Division 2 Committee on Infractions, would not comment specifically on the allegations against Michigan, but said they should be taken seriously.

"The rules are the rules,” he said. “When you sign on to be the head coach at Michigan like anywhere else, you know what the rules are, you have the resources, so follow the rules. I think that’s where people need to really come from. Is the NCAA manual way too large? Are the rules just (endless)? I think it’s been created because of everybody taking advantage and overstepping the boundaries of what really is acceptable.”

Allegation: Coaches were misused

During his last two years at West Virginia, Rodriguez approached school officials about upgrades to the football program.

One item under discussion was hiring seven graduate assistants to serve in the strength and conditioning program, court records filed in a 2008 lawsuit against Rodriguez by the university show.

West Virginia athletic director Ed Pastilong said in an April 2008 deposition that he had a “preventative type meeting” with Rodriguez to make sure only permitted assistants took part in coaching duties.

Rodriguez, in his deposition, denied that meeting took place, but was questioned about the role of graduate students.

Q: Were you ever told by anybody that your request for additional graduate assistants in the strength and conditioning program would violate NCAA rules?

A (Rodriguez): No. And that's not true, regarding the number of graduate assistants for the strength and conditioning. You can have as many as you want.

Q: As long as you use them for strength and conditioning?

A: Right.

Q: But if you're using them to help do other things, including coaching, it's a violation of the rules, isn't it?

A: Right. You have to only use the 12 on the field for coaching. We understood the rules.

According to the NCAA, Michigan’s compliance office had concerns about Rodriguez’s use of quality-control assistants, an entry-level position similar to graduate assistant.

The NCAA said Michigan used quality-control assistants to coach players, help them in their stretching, watch game film with athletes and offer advice and technique tips. Only head coaches, full-time assistants and two denoted graduate assistants per team can take part in those activities, according to NCAA rules.

Eight schools have violated rules on coaching limits since 2000, NCAA records show.

A review of those cases shows the allegation is generally part of a package of other rules violations, like it is in Michigan’s case. In several cases, the NCAA has shrunk the coaching staff by one position as punishment.

Allegation: Excessive practice time

In the summer of 2003, an assistant coach at Texas State University-San Marcos approached his head coach, wondering whether the football team was going over the allowed 20-hours-a-week for practice rule.

No, replied head coach Manny Matsakis, according to NCAA documents. Matsakis said flexibility and stretching programs didn’t count toward those hours.

Not true, the NCAA ruled in March 2005.

“Had the former head coach been concerned about the classification of these activities, simply consulting the compliance coordinator would have provided a definitive answer. Instead, the former head coach substituted his personal judgment, resulting in the team exceeding practice limits and contributing to the former head coach’s broader failure to monitor his program,” NCAA officials wrote in their public infractions report.


Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon addresses the media on Feb. 23 about the five potential NCAA major rules violations as Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez listens.

In its Notice of Allegations, the NCAA said Michigan similarly broke rules on practice time from January 2008 to “at least” September 2009 by conducting extra workouts and exceeding practice limits from between 20 minutes to two hours a week.

In a press conference last month, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon acknowledged some rules on practice time were violated and that "a lack of clarity around whether time spent in stretching and warm-up activities were countable minutes" contributed to the mistake. Coaches can require players to spend up to 20 hours a week in season, eight hours a week out of season and four hours a day on countable athletically related activities like practice, weight lifting and film.

Since 2000, the NCAA has found 34 times that other schools violated the same rules Michigan is alleged to have broken.

In many of those cases, the NCAA has penalized teams by docking them roughly double the amount of practice time they exceeded limits by.

In the Texas State case, “The university believed that it exceeded the practice limitations in football by 26.25 hours. As a result, using a two-for-one penalty reduction, the university reduced practice activities by a total of 53 hours. Specifically, during fall 2003, the university reduced practice time by 33.5 hours. The reduction in spring 2004 was 19.5 hours,” according to the public infraction report.

In 2005, Florida International self-imposed a 171-practice-hour reduction after its football team took part in 85-1/2 extra practice hours over a three-year span.

Jo Potuto, who chaired the infractions committee for two years and still occasionally subs on it, declined to speak specifically about Michigan’s situation but said the two-for-one penalty is done intentionally.

“Why two-for-one? I suspect it’s because that if you only do one-for-one, there’s no deterrent effect," she said. "All you’re doing is saying you did one, so now just give back one, and I suspect the theory is you don’t want to make it an even game as to well, 'I’ll go ahead and do it because all that’s going to happen is I’m going to lose one anyway.' You want to set it up so that there’s more of a consequence than that.”

The infractions committee also takes circumstances into account, Jones said, so for example, a school wouldn’t lose its entire spring practice time.

“At a minimum, you want to put the school back to where they should be,” she said. “Sometimes though, you want to set the program back some.”

Some fans discount the allegations as minor, but former NCAA enforcement investigators and former members of the infractions committee say the NCAA considers them serious.

“The NCAA wants to make sure that there’s a balance between how much (an athlete) is studying and how much they are practicing. That’s why you are seeing this violation more,” Jones said.

Allegation: Unethical behavior

Michigan graduate assistant coach Alex Herron is alleged to have violated rules by lying to NCAA investigators. It's the second most common charge the NCAA has levied since 2000, with 94 other instances of coaches breaking that rule.

The NCAA said Herron twice provided “false and misleading information” to its enforcement staff when asked about monitoring summer workouts he wasn't allowed to attend. He is now listed as a staff intern, after spending last year as a graduate assistant coach.

In almost every similar case, the NCAA has placed a "show cause" order on the coach. With that in place, any institution wanting to hire the coach must go before the Committee on Infractions and receive permission to to make the hire until the order expires.

Allegation: University failed to monitor

Ninety-six of the cases adjudicated by the NCAA in the last decade place at least part of the blame for rules violations at the feet of the athletic department, either by saying the school lost institutional control or the institution failed to monitor.

A loss of institutional control is the more serious charge, experts said.

“The failure to monitor is for cases that are more isolated, to the sport, to a rule,” Jones said, adding it generally means there aren’t systematic failures in the school’s overall athletic department.

It is difficult to separate penalties for this specific charge from others in past cases. But experts said a failure to monitor charge generally leads to a probationary period for the university as a whole. The length can vary, depending on the other violations charged.

Probation periods can run from two to five years and put a university under more NCAA scrutiny. Michigan received probation in 2003 for rules violations committed by its basketball program and was under probation when these alleged violations occurred, thus opening it up to repeat offender punishment.

“What it actually means is that all of the schools that recruit against them will say, ‘Do you know that Michigan is on probation for two years?’ as if somehow that is going to be some heinous penalty,” said David Swank, former chairman of the Infractions Committee and now a law professor at Oklahoma University.

“Actually what it really means is that for a period of two years, the NCAA will probably look at them more closely and they have to make an annual report of what they’ve been doing. But probation really does little beyond, to be quite honest about it," Swank said. "It’s a black eye that the school has been placed on probation by the NCAA. No school wants to be placed on probation, but as far as any significant effects other than reputation and how others will use it, it really doesn’t do anything else.”

Allegation: Rodriguez failed to promote atmosphere of compliance

Along with allegations that Michigan's athletic department failed to monitor its football program, the NCAA has singled out Rodriguez for failing to monitor the duties and activities of his coaches and failing to promote an "atmosphere of compliance" within the program.

Throughout the Notice of Allegations, the NCAA asks the athletic department to provide compliance documents, memos and other rules-education materials to determine how well Rodriguez knew the rules he is accused of breaking.

Six other coaches have been charged with failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance since the rule was put in place in 2005, NCAA records show.

"It’s fairly subjective," Jones said. "Do we think this coach should have known what was going on? It’s just a gut call.”

One coach charged with failure to monitor was former Indiana basketball coach Kelvin Sampson, who was cited for illegally contacting recruits after being punished for the same infraction at Oklahoma. The NCAA slapped a show-cause order on Sampson after he was fired.

At Richmond, the head men’s and women’s basketball coaches were cited for failure to monitor after they and members of their staffs sent impermissible text messages and made impermissible phone calls to recruits.

Both programs were hit with recruiting restrictions, including fewer official visits, fewer recruiting days and reduced telephone contact. All offending coaches also were ordered to attend an NCAA Rules Compliance Seminar at their own expense.

At Michigan, Rodriguez's contract can be terminated for cause if he's found to have committed a major violation, intentionally committed a secondary violation, or had knowledge of any violations committed by his staff. If he's fired under any of those provisions, Michigan doesn't have to pay a buyout or the remainder of his deal.

Brandon said there are no plans for that to happen.

“Rich Rodriguez is our football coach, and he will be our football coach next year,” he said last month.

At the same press conference, Rodriguez addressed the allegations.

"It's my job as a leader to make sure that our guys not only know what the rules are but what the possible interpretations are," he said. "We didn't have any issues in the past, but that's not to excuse us for if we misinterpreted the rules. That's still on us, and that's still on my staff.

"And what I have to do as the leader of the program is make sure we get the proper interpretations and follow the rules the way they're supposed to be interpreted and that it's communicated amongst the whole staff. We've already begun that process. I know there won't be any issues in regards to that in the future." football writer Dave Birkett contributed to this story. David Jesse covers education for He can be reached at or at 734-623-2534.



Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 9:04 p.m.

This is a very good article. But, really, this is all about winning. If RR wins 9 games in 2010, this will all be forgotten.


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 12:45 a.m.

The NCAA will investigate and find that Rich only wanted his players to practice harder, and had measures to stop people from skipping class. Ye of little faith, relax, all will be righted.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 11:48 p.m.

tresspass is correct, this is a well written and rational article by exposing all sides of the issue that Rich Rod and Barwis etc. created here at Michigan


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 9:39 p.m.

Bravo @Engineer!


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 7:54 p.m.

If the NCAA would review the tapes of the games for the last 2 years they would clearly see that extra practice time did not happen. It actually appears that not enough time was spent practicing since the teams rarely seemed ready for the games they played. If that was all RR could accomplish with extra time then we certainly need a new coach because with less time we may begin to approach a lion like no win season. Don't laugh 3 to 0 is not that big of step.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 7:37 p.m.

If Brandon had any brains he'd cut his losses now and fire RR


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 6:12 p.m.

@voiceofreason Still a comment with no specifics. If the discrepancies are so significant, name a few


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 5:22 p.m.

Rich Rodriguez owes an apology to the Univeristy, the fans and his former employer. He should also apologize in advance to his next employer. Hopefully the latter wil be necessary before the summer camp.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 5:18 p.m.

hey trespass, first of all, you are trespassing. Second, the University does not owe anyone but it's fans and supporters, both financial and otherwise, an apology. Just because there are homers out there that think the freep is out for UofM, does not constitute an apology. GAL

Brian Bundesen

Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 5:13 p.m.

I agree that this is an excellent article, and clarifies many of the gray areas. As we all know, we live in a world where perception is reality, and this whole episode is a bad stain on the reputation of not just one coach, but the entire program, and the entire University. Fans can pooh-pooh, downplay, claim they are "minor" and that "everybody else does it," but, quite frankly, I for one expect much better from the University of Michigan. It's just my 2 cents, but in my opinion, this whole episode is indicative of a larger problem. I think that in today's high pressure, win at all cost approach, the fans, alumni, media and others are all guilty of "Failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance." I don't know when it all started, but it is very evident that the pressure to win and expectations ratchet up a notch every year. Given that, it is understandable that if those results cannot be achieved within the rules, those in charge seem to see no alternative but to seek to achieve those results outside the rules. One of the most telling numbers that jumped out at me in this report was that of 59 allegations of Unethical Conduct in the NCAA. 59!!! It is a sad day indeed where on the one hand, we need voluminous written regulations requiring compliance with ethical standards, but it is even worse when our best of the best institutions of higher education flaunt or ignore the most basic of concepts that they should be teaching our future leaders. If it's a choice of being ethical, but losing a few more football GAMES, or being unethical, and basically winning by cheating, I'd be OK with a few more L's.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 4:33 p.m.

trespass, Get the four Free Press articles in front of you. Also have the Notice of Allegations handy. Compare the two, and note the massive discrepancies which were the entire reason for the case. Just because the Free Press has already claimed vindication, doesn't mean you should just accept their self-promotion. Before coming back and calling for another apology, please do the comparison. You will be very surprised with the results.

Sean T.

Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 3:46 p.m.

I agree, Trespass. It seems that the Freep was pretty thorough with their reporting.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 3:31 p.m.

@voiceofreason Yours is an allegation without specifics. What did the reporters allege that was not born out by the investigation? Even if there is some quibble about the number of hours or some such, the NCAA investigation found major violations of practice rules, coaching numbers and a failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance. An apology by the University is still needed.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 3:22 p.m.

trespass, If you compare the NCAA Notice of Allegations to what was alleged in the Free Press expose, it is the Free Press who owes an apology to he University. Michael Rosenberg stepped way past the line of reporting the facts, and into the zone of intentionally misleading the public.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 2:59 p.m.

This is an excellent article. It puts the whole investigation into perspective. Where is the apology by the University to the Free Press reporters? Their reporting has been completely supported by the NCAA investigation yet the University has not yet seen fit to apologize for the defamation heaped on them by the University's fans and agents. I think it is about time.