The big news in college football in the state of Michigan didn’t have to do with upcoming games this weekend. It didn’t have to do with a quarterback competition, or a running back competition, or a depth chart. Instead, the biggest college football news in the state had to do with practice. Not a game, not a game, we in here talkin’ about practice (queue Allen Iverson).
By now, you’ve all heard the news. But let’s pretend, for a moment, that you haven’t. Late Saturday, the Free Press reported that multiple University of Michigan football players had corroborated that the program had violated NCAA rules regarding voluntary summer workouts and in-season practice hours.
ESPN video on the Michigan allegations:
There’s three issues that the Free Press alleges. First, the allegation that players were required to attend more than the allotted eight hours of off-season workouts each week. Second, that on the Sundays after football games, the team regularly would spend upwards of 9-10 hours in the football facility, exceeding the four-hour daily limit. Third, that members of RichRod’s quality control staff (what are they making, Toyotas?) would attend seven-on-seven scrimmages, which are supposed to be completely voluntary and player-run.
Let’s run through each of these real quick. First, the players being required to work out more than the mandatory eight hours. This one doesn’t seem like it will be the one that bites them. One of the annonymous sources in the article was quoted as saying “It was mandatory. They’d tell you it wasn’t, but it really was.” Okay, well, then it sounds like it wasn’t mandatory. If you’ve ever been on any sort of athletic team, not just football, you know that this is true. As a former West Virginia football player who played under RichRod said: “The workouts aren’t mandatory, but neither is your playing time.” Your team wants to be better, they want everyone to contribute, and if you’re in bed at 5:30 in the morning when everyone else is putting up bench presses, yeah you’re probably going to get a call. Is that mandatory? In a de facto way, yes, but it probably isn’t enough to get the coaching staff in trouble.
Second, that the team was required to spend more than the four hours allotted by the NCAA in the practice facility on Sundays. This one is a tough call for me. I can see where the coaching staff would try to set this up so that much of the work would be considered “voluntary,” such as the weight lifting sessions. But one of the sources said that they would lift, then would have a positional as well as a full-team meeting, and then would hold a full practice. All of those sound mandatory to me, and I can’t see those lasting less than four hours.
Third, that the quality control staff attended the seven-on-sevens. U-M’s compliance department performed spot checks on the seven-on-seven drills and found no issues that they needed to report. Still, the report in the Free Press seems to be pretty clear that the QC guys were there, it was corroborated by multiple players, and the QC personnel is not supposed to be there. So there’s quite a bit of gray here, and it’s kind of a he-said-she-said situation. But the U-M compliance department will have records, which will no doubt help their case.
I’m not surprised to hear this news, as I think most passionate college football fans are probably not surprised to hear that a major college football team exceeded the number of practice hours allotted.
There were two things that went through my mind when I read this story. First, this only furthers the indications that there are still deep rifts between some of the players in the locker room and the coaching staff. This is a serious issue, especially when you consider that the first game hasn’t even been played.
Second, and I don’t want to jump into too many FireRichRod.com conspiracies, but the article sounded a bit like a witch hunt. Rivals went so far as to completely call out Rosenberg and his editor for “journalistic malpractice.” Those sound like fighting words to me. On the other side of the coin, though, this does perhaps provide more clarity on why RichRod shredded player strength and conditioning documents when he and his staff left West Virginia (HT @stevensrp68).
I have a hard time believing that most college football programs are 100% squeaky clean on this, despite what the Free Press writers would publish shortly after the U-M allegations. Still, the fact remains that most college football players are committed to being the best they can be, and are willing to participate in the voluntary work to make themselves better. That there are numerous players speaking out against RichRod and his staff with regard to this work speaks volumes.
Update: And now this. Not a good week for Rich Rodriguez. He was clearly emotional yesterday at the press conference where he defended his staff and the program, and one has to imagine that this is taking a pretty big toll on the man.
Update Part 2: West Virginia (you know, the school that sued RichRod for a $4M buyout, so maybe not his biggest fan) has searched through their records and found no indications of impropriety with regard to practices or off-season workouts while he was at the helm of the WVU program.