In case you've been under a rock this past weekend, Michigan has been accused of potential NCAA rules violations regarding conducting practice beyond the allowed time limit, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Multiple anonymous current and former players corroborated the story that under second year head coach Rich Rodriguez, the Wolverines have basically required football-related activities beyond the daily and weekly maximum allotments, along with sending coaching personnel (quality control and graduate assistants) to "voluntary" seven-on-seven scrimmages over the summer.
Note that the Wolverines are known for traditionally running a clean program, having never been convicted of major NCAA rules violations.
Yes, this may just be a part of the changing of the guard with some of the old Carr-recruited players lashing out at the new Rodriguez regime via the media (also demonstrated by 20 transfers out of the program over the past year and a half or so), but any college football fan knows that this is a gray area where many programs tread and it's not much of a surprise to find out that "voluntary" practices aren't so voluntary.
There's the line quoted in the Free Press article that "workouts aren't mandatory, but neither is playing time" inferring that one must show up for practice, or else end up warming the bench.
It's yet another gray area of the rules as to what can be considered mandatory versus voluntary—if a player just shows up at the bare minimum of required practices, they likely will not be garnering much playing time in the regular season.
Of course, Northwestern fans are very familiar with this topic, having dealt with the unfortunate death of Rashidi Wheeler on the practice field back in the summer of 2001 and the aftermath (inquires, lawsuits, etc.) that followed.
That situation saw the need to clarify the rules around what staff personnel were allowed to be on the field for "voluntary" workouts (training staff is allowed to be present; just nobody associated with coaching), and brought light to how widespread these "voluntary" workouts really were in the college game.
With multiple deaths occurring on the football practice field over the past dozen or so years (most of which occurred in college), and now a major program being accused of direct violation of the practice rules, the perception of amateurism in college football should be significantly questioned.
In recent student-athlete surveys, it was easily shown that practices and game time during the season combined to the equivalent of a full-time job—something that the NCAA rules are specifically designed to prevent. The NCAA-view is that the "student-athlete" football player is a student who is participating in just another extra-curricular activity, albeit one that brings in millions of dollars in revenue for the school and puts them on national TV on a weekly basis.
These players are watched closely from the second they start playing in high school and are recruited heavily once they become juniors. Legions of fans follow their every move starting at that point and continuing in even more detail once they enroll in college. The fact is that college football players (at least at the Division I FBS level) are hardly normal students and are essentially football players first who try to fit everything else (including class) in second.
Northwestern fans know that NU does things the right way—emphasizing coursework and graduating with a degree, but even at NU and other academically-focused institutions, the day is filled with hours of football-related activities that are considered a priority.
It's time for everyone to give up the charade and realize college football for what it is—a collegiate-sponsored minor league for football. I'm not saying that takes anything away from what is an exciting and tradition-filled game, but it's something that many have hidden behind for years to defend making changes to the game (i.e. stipends or pay for players, and playoffs or other season-expanding actions).
Of course, the NCAA and its member institutions will be the last ones to ever move away from the "amateur" system, because they are the ones reaping the financial benefits of the current system. They and everyone else know that recruiting and practice rules leave a lot of gray area where many schools wander very close to that disallowed zone.
At the very least, us fans can realize college football for what it is, and not act too surprised when a big school is accused of breaking yet another NCAA recruiting or practice rule.
And, they can realize in the end it probably doesn't make that huge of a difference—look at Michigan who always brings in top-rated recruiting classes and who has been apparently skirting those rules about practice, and they ended last year with a 3-9 record, the worst in their program's history.
While it's important to hold schools to high standards, unless wholesale change is made across the nation, don't be surprised to see violations like this happen routinely.