Published November 20, 2014
Someone up there doesn't like Rich Rodriguez.
In a preemptive strike to keep the NCAA from bringing down major sanctions that could include a reduction in scholarships and a possible ban from bowl appearances (if there will be any in the next few years), Michigan came up with its own self-imposed penalties after getting nailed for a series of violations of practice time and overworking the team beyond the NCAA's mandated guidelines. In the end, this amounts to a clerical error by the people inside the athletic department who are supposed to serve as a checks and balances on these kinds of things, and Rodriguez, who isn't blameless but is hardly a truly bad guy in this case, has another check mark next to his name.
Because Rodriguez and his coaching staff held extra practices and made the players do extra work outside the NCAA's rules (since the "student athletes" aren't supposed to be there just to play football), the University of Michigan proposed to put itself in time out for the next two years with these penalties:
-- The practice time will be cut 130 hours over the next two seasons.
-- Two years of probation (which is basically Double Secret Probation, meaning they're on a sort of watch list).
-- The coaching staff will get cut down by two assistants for this season.
-- The university will issue official, sternly-toned letters of scorn to Rodriguez and others inside the program for their transgression.
You can wake up now.
None of this would matter a lick if Rodriguez started out his Michigan tenure 16-8 with the needle pointed up in Year Three, instead of 8-16 with the program still in full-blown rebuilding mode. To break down all the mumbo-jumbo from the NCAA and all the tap dancing from Michigan, basically, Rodriguez and the football program got hit with a speeding ticket at the Indianapolis 500.
EVERY coach and EVERY program blow past the NCAA guidelines for time that's supposed to spent on football. Michigan was sloppy, and the people in charge of reporting these things to the NCAA didn't have RichRod's back.
Players work out on their own, starting quarterbacks run daily drills with the receiving corps, coaches give players things to work on, everyone does far, far, far more work on football than the NCAA mandates, and yeah, coaches tend to have longer practices from time to time than they're supposed to. Because Rodriguez ruffled so many feathers and because he hasn't caught any sort of a break from the moment he was hired, this took on a life of its own and has become a far bigger deal than it really is. It's the kind of thing that a legendary head coach, or an ultra-successful one, would have swept under the rug. Bo Schembechler would never have been tagged with this.
The NCAA doesn't punish anymore with anything that has any real teeth, like taking away bowl games or TV time; there's too much money at stake and the television and licensing contracts have become too big to start messing with the idea of taking away the big-time programs from the national stage (like a certain storied program in Los Angeles that appears to be coated in Teflon). There are vacated wins, slaps on the wrists, and other nickel-and-dime penalties that become the equivalent of the NCAA being very, very disappointed in the offending program, while not actually taking away the dessert.
But for Michigan, the self-proclaimed Leaders and Best, being seen in any way as a having dirty football program, especially after the disaster revolving around the basketball program and the Fab Five era, doesn't sit well ... when the team is losing.
Rodriguez's job is hanging by a thread as is, and this just puts the pressure on that much more going into this season. He might be getting the right players in place to do what he wants to, he might be coming up with some nice recruiting classes that need a few years to mature, but he's not going to get a chance to do anything with the foundation he's trying to set if the team is anything less than 8-4, or better, with a good showing against Ohio State.
The problems surrounding the current scandal point to the lack of communication on all fronts in the Michigan football program, and it shows that Rodriguez isn't really in charge of much and he doesn't have any footing in the athletic department. The anonymous players who blew the whistle on the violations would be rooted out and working as waterboys for D-II programs if Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel, or Nick Saban were in charge. And if this was Michigan in the Schembechler years, heads would be rolling in the athletic department for letting this become a problem.
In the end, this doesn't really matter. If Rodriguez turns the program around and starts winning, this will be seen as a tough patch everyone had to get through on the road to success. If the team goes 6-6 this year, the violations could be seen as the official beginning of the end of the failed experiment, and they can be used as an excuse to finally bring the marriage of Michigan and Les Miles together.