Michigan relieved for now, but NCAA investigation isn't over yet
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
It was painful and sad and historic, and depending on your point of view, maybe a bit appropriate, too.Â
But in announcing Michigan’s serious-sounding-yet-practically-moderate self-imposed penalties Tuesday, athletic director Dave Brandon chose “relief” as his emotion to best describe the day.
Michigan suffered the worst black eye in the storied history of its football program, placing itself on two years probation and taking away 130 hours of practice time.
But relief came from the fact things could have been much worse.
In a 79-page response released Tuesday to February's NCAA’s official Notice of Allegations, Michigan described systemic breakdowns in its compliance and athletic departments while largely defending much-maligned football coach Rich Rodriguez.
Rodriguez’s dodged, with Michigan’s blessing, the most serious charge against him, a failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance within his program
Brandon said that was less a distribution of blame than where the facts led.
“The reality is that we had failures across the athletic department,” he said. “If you go back and you read the documents you will see that bad decisions were made, there was sloppy handling of information. Some of our checks and balances were not implemented and executed as they should have been. We had failures of communication along the chain of command that led us to where we are today.”
Despite Brandon’s relief, the Wolverines aren’t done with the NCAA process just yet.
Along with probation and practice limitations, Michigan eliminated two quality-control positions and essentially did away with three others thanks to a series of hamstringing restrictions.
The NCAA can choose to add more penalties when Brandon, Rodriguez and Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman lead a university contingent before the Committee on Infractions this August in Seattle.
If the committee believes, as NCAA investigators suggested in their initial report, that Rodriguez failed to promote compliance, there will be steeper punishments to pay.
A third year of probation is possible, and maybe a loss of scholarships or further coaching-staff scale backs.
Brandon said those penalties are unwarranted and excessive, and things the Wolverines chose not to self-impose Tuesday.
“When programs receive bans on postseason play, when they get reductions in scholarships, when they get reductions in coaching positions, typically those are associated with violations that rise to the level of lack of institutional control, unfair competitive advantage, that would have impacted other programs and other players,” he said. “None of that is relevant to the situation that we’re dealing with today.”
Inherently, Michigan gained some advantage by practicing an extra 65 hours over the last two years. Even if the overages were related to miscalculating warm-up activities as non-countable hours as the university submits, those exercises netted the Wolverines an extra 2 1/2 days worth of off- or in-season prep.
Rodriguez, clearly, was the big winner Tuesday, though his 89-page personal response read part caged animal, part blame-shifter. In his defense, he was fighting for possibly his coaching life, and had the documents to back up his claims.
Brandon described Rodriguez as a model coach in terms of working with Michigan’s compliance department and reiterated once again that, major infractions or not, he's going nowhere.
In the last two days, both men expressed regret at being in this situation and promised never to return.
“There’s nothing good about the word investigation, there’s nothing good about the word violation, there’s nothing good about the word probation,” Brandon said. “This is an unfortunate situation that we find ourselves in.
“We made mistakes, we are being transparent about it, we’re accountable, we’re doing something about it. We’re going to be sure they don’t happen again. And beyond that, I don’t know what else we can do.”
Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.