Yesterday, the NCAA alerted West Virginia's athletic department of allegations similar, if not identical to, those that were levied against Michigan in the fall of last year.
Principally, the allegations were that quality control coaches and other staff members falling in the gray area between coach and staffer were present during voluntary workouts in an advisory capacity. Because of that, those voluntary practices became countable hours and caused WVU to exceed allowable practice time.
What the Rodriguez headhunters and other naysayers don't realize in their renewed verbal war against Michigan's head coach is that Michigan has already pled guilty to these offenses.
Rodriguez was the head coach of West Virginia and is the head coach at Michigan. One would like to believe that, legally and idealistically, he is responsible for and knowledgeable about every part of the program he oversees.
But this expects too much of Rodriguez, or of any coach of a football team, particularly one as large as Michigan football or one being monitored by an organization as nebulous as the NCAA is.
The parties that are truly at fault in both the West Virginia and Michigan cases are the compliance officers whose job it was to make sure Rodriguez's system followed the rules. These were the people who should have alerted Rodriguez beforethe NCAA stepped in that something had to change.
(Tellingly, Brad Labadie, Michigan's former director of operations, stepped down in July. Labadie's oversight duties included compliance; many therefore assumed he was forced out as penance for his failure.)
What Rodriguez is guilty of is instituting a system of practice that is illegal. It was installed at WVU and Michigan and continued at West Virginia past his departure.
Though he has avowed his belief in and subservience to compliance, he failed to follow the rules—twice.
But for the record, he has never stated his innocence regarding these allegations. His issue has been and will always be with the characterization that he overworked his players or operated in disregard for their well-beings.
In April he and the Michigan athletic department owned up to breaking the rules. The pound of flesh the Detroit Free Press demanded last year was delivered. And for this, Michigan's program will undergo sanctions resulting in the loss of practice time and of two or three quality control staffers.
Yet Rodriguez's sins qualify as sins of omission, not commission. Unless the NCAA finds verifiable proof that Rodriguez instructed his quality control staff to attend voluntary workouts in full knowledge of that behavior's noncompliance, the worst thing you can call him is misguided.
What you cannot say is that he behaved with malicious intent.
That the illegal practice continued after Rodriguez left essentially demonstrates this point...unless you believe both Rodriguez and Bill Stewart were OK'ing the illegality of the practice from the top down. And knowing Stewart, that is a stretch to say the least.
Of course, the attraction of this argument hinges on two things; one, that my audience gives a hoot about compliance, a body that operates essentially without press, and certainly without fanfare; and two, that they are sympathetic to the claim that Rodriguez cannot and ought not to understand everything about his program.
The other thing it relies on is perspective. In spite of what the Free Press wants to argue, these violations are minor in the larger scheme. For proof, I point to what Michigan has done to sanction itself: the forfeiture of practice time, two years of probation, and two less QC coaches, which most teams have too many of to begin with. No loss of scholarships, no bowl ban, not even the loss of true assistant coaches.
If Michigan believed such minor self-sanctions weren't enough, it would not have proffered them to the NCAA. Athletic director David Brandon has no ambition of drawing this saga out. It harms recruiting and brings negative press to the program when positivity is what is needed most. Unless Michigan alters its self-sanctions when it goes before the NCAA in a week, it must not believe these allegations warrant a larger penalty.
That said, the WVU revelations will likely change little in the Michigan fanbase. The Rodriguez defenders, including myself, see it as unfortunate and irritating but largely irrelevant to his status as Michigan's head coach. Just win, baby.
The haters...well, they gonna hate. As Michigan's former QB, David Cone, puts it, if the haters don't hate you, then you're doin' somethin' wrong.
All I worry about are those middle-grounders, those undecided voters who seem to decide every election these days. What can they possibly think when they see the Free Press's stock of "frowny Rodriguez" pictures trotted out for another full-page spread?
I hope they consider that Rodriguez, in spite of how this has been spun, has confessed to his own limitations. I, for one, don't think those limitations ought to alter his status as Michigan's head coach.