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Michigan might be in big trouble

Aug 30, 2009, 1:35 PM EST

News broke this morning in the Detroit Free-Press about potential NCAA violations under Rich Rodriguez and his Michigan Wolverines coaching staff.

From the Free Press:

The University of Michigan football team consistently has violated NCAA
rules governing off-season workouts, in-season demands on players and
mandatory summer activities under coach Rich Rodriguez, numerous players told the Free Press.

Players on the 2008 and 2009 teams described training and practice
sessions that far exceeded limits set by the NCAA, which governs
college athletics. The restrictions are designed to protect players’
well-being, ensure adequate study time and prevent schools from gaining
an unfair competitive advantage.

The players, who did not want to be identified because they
feared repercussions from coaches, said the violations occurred
routinely at the direction of Rodriguez’s staff.

“It’s one of those things where you can’t say something,” one current Wolverine said. “If you say something, they’re going to say you’re a lazy person and don’t want to work hard.”

That player was one of six current or former players who gave lengthy,
detailed and nearly identical descriptions of the program to the Free
Press.

Many of the controversial details revolve around Michigan strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis. Barwis made waves when he arrived in Ann Arbor with Rodriguez, intent on reshaping and revolutionizing the workouts at Michigan using his Mixed Martial Arts background and other exotic training methods.

NCAA rules maintain an 8-hour limit for offseason workouts. The investigation by the Free Press pegged the actual time commitment around 15-21 hours a week. 

“It was mandatory,” on player said. “They’d tell you it wasn’t, but it was. If you didn’t show up, there was punishment. I just felt for the guys that did miss a workout and had to go through the personal hell they would go through.”

Even Barwis, when speaking to website GoBlueWolverine.com said this:

“In reality, the work that they do, the commitment tha they have and things they are put through, they are not going to be put through it at any other level, at any other time in their lives. The NFL guys we have back think, ‘Wow, this is absurd the amount of work they are putting in.’”

When asked for comment, the university supplied written statements from Rodriguez and compliance director Judy Van Horn.

“We know the practice and off-season rules, and we stay within the guidelines. We follow the rules and have always been completely committed to being compliant with all NCAA rules,” Rodriguez said.

Van Horn added, “Compliance and administrative staff conduct in-person spot checks of practice during the academic year and summer. We have not had any reason to self-report any violations in this area with any of our sports.”

“Voluntary workouts” have always been a comical distinction for major college athletes. Yet the Free Press report, combined with player quotes at UM’s own media day, lay down a pretty compelling case that the rules have been stretched. 

As for what these alleged violations mean for the Wolverines, that’s anyone’s guess. The NCAA has a pretty tremendous reputation for being illogical and holding hostage certain athletic programs while allowing others to skate by freely. (See: Bush, Reggie)

As for Rodriguez, the investigation could be dangerous for him personally. It’s one thing to struggle on the field during a transitional period, but the grumblings of eroded family values and roster attrition have tested the mettle of Wolverine faithful. Add on top of it potentially major NCAA violations, and Michigan could be looking like another powerhouse Big Ten program that made a catastrophic coaching hire: Indiana basketball and exiled coach Kelvin Sampson.

To be sure, there is plenty more of this story to be told, but if these allegations prove to be true, and the Wolverines continue to struggle under Rodriguez, there will be difficult decisions to make in the Big House this fall. 

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