Hail to the Violations?

Well it sure appears like Rich Rodriguez is working hard in Michigan…or, to be more accurate, it seems he is making his players put in that work. Of course he has adamantly denied mandating his team to go over the 20 hour/week NCAA practice limits, even to the point of tears. The assault hasn’t stopped there either, as he has also apparently been involved with a banned Clemson booster, which has led to a nice lawsuit for Rich Rod.

Not really a good time to be a Michigan fan right now.

I kid you not, this story was covered on my local sports station which really only focuses on Dallas sports (e.g. not ESPN national coverage). This has really blown up big across the nation.

With everything coming out in bunches right now against Rich Rod, one fact seems clear: there are some important people that want him out and want him out now. I guess a 3-9 season can do that to a fan base and folks with thick wallets; however, it is good to know that fan bases like Notre Dame would never stoop to such lows to try and show discontent for a coach (more on that mess in a future post).

While the news about the lawsuit and involvement with the banned booster seem to be a bit of a nice smear campaign to help shove Rich Rod out the door, the potential practice hour violations may actually be of some concern to Michigan. This doesn’t seem to be something that will simply be brushed off as “well, yeah, everyone does it” — which to a certain degree is true. Heck even Ohio State alum, Kurt Herbstreit, and the current Ohio State team is sticking up for Michigan.

Back in my time as a manager, ND had similar “optional” workouts that were basically required; in fact, “optional-mandatory” was the term Weis used for them. Basically, they were extra workout/lifting sessions for the team. I never saw any of these workouts personally, so I cannot say for certain whether coaches were or were not in attendance; however, I can say this: I am positive that in some way, shape, or form Weis knew who was there and who wasn’t and it would be naive to believe otherwise or to believe that this doesn’t happen at pretty much every school in the nation. That being said, I do believe that Weis was smart enough to not ever let some of the following things happen:

In the past two off-seasons, players said, the Wolverines were expected to spend two to three times more than the eight hours allowed for required workouts each week. Players are free to exceed the limit, but it must be truly voluntary.

The players said the off-season work was clearly required. Several of them said players who failed to do all the strength and conditioning were forced to come back to finish or were punished with additional work.

“It was mandatory,” one player said. “They’d tell you it wasn’t, but it really 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.”

In addition, the players cited these practices within the program:

• Players spent at least nine hours on football activities on Sundays after games last fall. NCAA rules mandate a daily 4-hour limit. The Wolverines also exceeded the weekly limit of 20 hours, the athletes said.

• Players said members of Rodriguez’s quality-control staff often watched seven-on-seven off-season scrimmages. The noncontact drills, in which an offense runs plays against a defense, are supposed to be voluntary and player-run. They are held at U-M’s football facilities. NCAA rules allow only training staff — not quality-control staffers — to attend as a safety precaution. Quality-control staffers provide administrative and other support for the coaches but are not allowed to interact directly with players during games, practices or workouts.

Several players said that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during the past two off-seasons, they were expected to be in the weight room for three to four hours, followed by a run of 45 minutes to an hour.

Players said that on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they were expected to spend two to three hours working on speed and agility. That brings the total time commitment to 15-21 hours a week — more than the NCAA’s [offseason] weekly 8-hour limit, which includes time spent watching film.

On top of the strength and conditioning, many players are expected to participate in seven-on-seven scrimmages five days a week, for about 45 minutes a day, during much of the off-season.

Several players said the off-season hours contributed to the program’s high attrition rate — more than 20 players have left the program early since Rodriguez was hired. They said that Michigan coaches have a saying: “Workouts aren’t mandatory, but neither is playing time.”

Under Carr, off-season seven-on-seven drills were run by players, without coaches or staff members present, players said. The only staffer there would be a trainer, in case anybody got injured, as allowed under NCAA rules.

Several players said Rodriguez’s coaches were more likely to insist they participate in seven-on-seven scrimmages, which have become more frequent. They also said that members of the program’s quality-control staff frequently watched seven-on-sevens.

“They usually just watched and would write down who wasn’t there,” one player on the 2008 team said.

Another said graduate assistants would track them down.

“The phone would ring: ‘Where you at? … You gotta come.’ ‘I’m in class.’ ”

Quality-control staffers are not allowed to attend voluntary drills, according to the NCAA.

Players also said members of the coaching staff sometimes lingered nearby to watch seven-on-seven scrimmages. Players said the coaches were not physically coaching them, but their presence made it apparent that attendance was being noted and their performances were being evaluated. NCAA rules require such scrimmages to be voluntary.

The 2008 Wolverines were shocked by how much Rodriguez required on fall Sundays.

Rodriguez required his players to arrive at Schembechler Hall by noon the day after games. They would then go through a full weight-lifting session, followed by individual position meetings and a full-team meeting. Then, at night, they would hold a full practice. Often, they would not leave the practice facility until after 10 p.m.

In September 2008, three weeks into Rodriguez’s first season, senior defensive tackle Terrance Taylor talked about his previous Sunday.

“It was, like, 10 hours,” Taylor said. “Everybody was like, ‘Where were you at?’ ‘I was at practice all day.’ My parents were still here. They were like, ‘Where were you at?’ I was like, ‘I was at the building all day.’ ”

The NCAA limit is 4 hours a day for required activities.

“The Sundays were miserable,” one player said. “I could never get healthy. You’d go through a game and then go through a hard workout. Sundays would just kill you.”

The NCAA also limits teams to 20 hours a week, and Rodriguez apparently exceeded that limit as well.

Yeah…just a tad bit more than a few “optional-mandatory” lifts to say the least.

As much time as I spent working around the team and around the Gug, I can safely say ND never even came close to toeing the line that Michigan has apparently crossed. We worked long hours and were used for just about everything the football team needed in regards to practice and yes, even offseason workouts; however, even we weren’t allowed to be in those lifting sessions (hell, we couldn’t even go in the weight room). Sundays we’d be recording final player times, checking for holes in uniforms, and general laundry duties, and players would be coming in and out throughout the day taking care of things on their own. Definitely nothing at all like what some of these players have been describing.

Again, let’s be clear, no one is doubting that teams go over the NCAA limits. The main issue at hand here is how it seems Rich Rod was actually recording these events, punishing players for failing to show up, and having the extra hours as a set routine for the team.

And that’s probably one of the most damning things about the whole situation: it’s the players ratting Rich Rod out. Sure you could say these are disgruntled former players, but it is a little hard to ignore when the freshmen on the team confirm it without knowing any better:

At the school’s news media day, the Free Press asked freshman Brandin Hawthorne what winter conditioning was like. Hawthorne, a linebacker from Pahokee, Fla., enrolled in January.

“It’s crazy,” said Hawthorne, who was not complaining about his coaches and was apparently unaware of the time-limit rules. “I work out at 8. We’ll work out from, like, 8 to 10:30. We come back later, have one-on-ones, seven-on-sevens, a little passing. Then I’ll go watch a little film.”

The Free Press also asked freshman receiver Je’Ron Stokes about Michigan’s off-season program. Stokes, from Philadelphia, arrived at the Ann Arbor campus in June.

“Hooooo!” Stokes said. “A typical week is working from 8 a.m. in the morning to 6 or 7 at night, Monday through Saturday.”

And that was starting in June?

“Yes, sir,” Stokes said. “We do the weight room at least three times a week, and seven-on-sevens and one-on-ones. Speed and agility on the other days. Every day we have something new to get ready for the season. The coaches have done a great job of stressing the importance of getting us ready for the big season that we’re about to have.”

To play devil’s advocate for a second, the two freshmen did not say anything in the article about coaches being around or attendance being taken. However, what they did confirm was that the crazy hours former players were talking about do not seem to be so far fetched and gives credibility to their stories.

Perhaps the most disturbing fact and, well, laughable fact about the whole situation is where this has gotten Michigan: loads of players leaving the program and a 3-9 record in 2008. If these allegations end up being true, how awful and shameful is it for Michigan to not only get slapped with NCAA sanctions (for the first time ever I believe), but that they literally got nothing out of it. It would be like a baseball player getting caught juicing and not hitting a single homerun.

Time will tell whether or not these allegations are actually true, but things do not seem to be going so well for Michigan or Rich Rod right now. This is definitely not the way you’d like to enter the football season, especially trying to rebound from an awful season. I wonder how many Michigan fans are wishing Lloyd Carr was still around right about now?