Practice Doesn't Make Perfect: The Beginning of the End for Rich Rodriguez
Even before the 2009 season gets underway, controversy and scandal has found its way back onto the Michigan campus.
On Saturday, Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press reported that the Wolverines have "consistently violated NCAA rules governing off-season workouts, in-season demands on players and mandatory summer activities under coach Rich Rodriguez."
According to six current or former Michigan football players, practice sessions typically exceeded limits set by the NCAA and that members of the team's quality control staff were present for off-season scrimmages, another violation.
The players, speaking on the condition on anonymity because they feared repercussions from coaches and fans, revealed that the time demands negatively affected academic performance and that players were forced to sign NCAA forms stating that all rules had been followed.
Of course Rodriguez promptly denied any wrongdoing.
"We know the practice and off-season rules, and we stay within the guidelines," Rodriguez said in a statement issued Friday to the Free Press. "We follow the rules and have always been completely committed to being compliant with all NCAA rules."
And you have the forced signatures of your players to back that up, right Rich?
Since arriving in Ann Arbor in December 2007, Rodriguez has had a firestorm of controversy hovering above his head.
There was the way in which Coach Rod left his former team, the subsequent court battle concerning his contract's buyout clause and the bad press that spilled into Michigan's lap with his hiring.
Then, with only two months under his belt at UM, Rodriguez was called a "guy in a wizard hat selling snake oil" by a fellow Big Ten coach because he was able to convince six recruits to change verbal commitments to other programs and sign with Michigan.
Then came a succession of transfers—20 to date—including the very public transfer of offensive lineman Justin Boren, who transferred to archrival Ohio State citing an erosion of family values.
Rodriguez's reputation had become somewhat skewed nationally, but the Michigan faithful were seemingly still behind him.
The 2008 season did nothing to improve his standing.
Another season opening loss in the Big House, Michigan's first loss to a MAC team and a fifth straight loss to Ohio State paved the way for a 3-9 record and Michigan's record bowl game streak was over.
Still the fans hung in there and after another excellent recruiting class, fans were even hopeful about the upcoming season.
Now, this bombshell.
Whether you believe the players or not. Whether you like Rodriguez or not. Whether you bleed Maize and Blue or not. This could be a major problem for Michigan football.
A likely NCAA investigation is concerning, but a deeper look at the trouble Michigan now finds itself in, is sad for college football's winningest program.
That players were motivated enough to find out what a violation would be and disgruntled enough to go to the press en masse is the most troubling.
If the players had spoken to their coaches or the athletic director or the President of the University this would be a different story. But, the fact that these players went to the press, whistles in hand, to tattle on their coach leads one to the conclusion that something is terribly wrong.
And now Michigan fans may start to wonder if supporting Rodriguez is the wisest decision.
The Wolverines came within three points of playing for the national championship in 2006. Now, there is some doubt as to whether they can win their season opener against Western Michigan.
When the Maize and Blue take the field in six days, some of those players will have been disgruntled enough to have gone to the press to complain about their coach.
Now the public perception of the program under Rodriguez is further tainted and Michigan fans could be in for even more disappointment.
The storied history of the Michigan program is safe. No one can takes that away.
But just like Rodriguez has lost his team, he will soon lose the support of the Michigan faithful and Michigan athletic director Bill Martin may wind up wanting to forget all about these tumultuous two seasons.
Martin has announced that the University would conduct a full investigation into the allegations. If there is truth to any part of this the Rodriguez era will be over before it really ever began.
Maybe West Virginia will want him back.
Nope, he burned that bridge too.
This article was originally posted on First and Big Ten on August 30, 2009. To read more about Big Ten football visit www.firstandbigten.com
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