Rich Rodriguez is under fire by just about everyone these days, most importantly though, by the NCAA. In his emotional news conference on Monday, just six days before his team's season opener against Western Michigan, he defended himself and his coaching staff against allegations of violations of an NCAA rule that states players may not practice more than 20 hours a week during the season, or eight hours in the offseason.
Rodriguez, who went 3-9 in the 2009 season, defended his coaching practices after the Detroit Free Press published an article in which past players under Rodriguez at U-M alleged that Rodriguez and his staff violated NCAA rules relating to practice time.
"I guess I'm here to tell you that whatever you've heard or want to believe, the truth is that this coaching staff cares very deeply about the young men in our program."
Though I believe that Rodriguez probably did break rules, I know for a fact that he is not the first, and will not be the last. Rodriguez is being used to teach other coaches a lesson, and will most likely tarnish the reputation of the winningist program in history on the way to harsher crackdowns on coaches not working within their 20 hours a week, by extending practices hours in a routine practice called "voluntary workouts."
In the vast landscape of NCAA sports where coaches cheat this practice rule all the time, student-athletes rarely have room to complain. Being a student-athlete myself, we would always grumble when we signed our hour sheets for the semester, because we rarely believed that our coach was right in our weekly practice hours.
But we did it nonetheless.
Yes, many practices are deemed as "voluntary workouts," but as all athletes know, it is very easy to be reprimanded for missing these workouts: you miss playing time as well. To me, students have very little leeway in arguing hours "worked," because the main goal for many programs is to win, plain and simple. Some programs have to work harder, and longer, just to stay above .500.
Many student-athletes reap the benefits of their work. Others, like the 3-9 2009 Wolverines, do not. That kind of record makes voluntary workouts much harder to swallow. Knowing that you have yet to see the benefits of your extra work makes it much harder to stay on that same path.
I will forever preach the benefits of being a student-athlete. It doesn't mean though, that these "students" aren't sometimes used as vehicles for coaches. Especially in football and basketball. I do not believe that Rodriguez, much like all coaches, doesn't care about their athletes. I believe all coaches care immensely about their athletes. Athletes don't always see this however. They see extra "voluntary" practices and a losing season.
I don't believe that Rodriguez is the first, or that he will be the last coach to violate these NCAA practice rules. I believe there is something inherently wrong with the competitive level these student-athletes are expected to play with only 20 practice hours a week and a full class load.
Something is eventually going to give and Rich Rodriguez may be the tipping point the NCAA needs to crackdown on violators of this practice rule. That is if student-athletes are willing to give up winning (or potentially their program all together) to speak up.