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2010-06-01

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'U' announces self-imposed sanctions, expert sheds light on decision

Salam Rida/Daily
University Athletic Director David Brandon, left, and head football coach Rich Rodriguez, second from left, announce self-imposed sanctions at a press conference in the Ross Acacdemic Center on Tuesday, May 25. The announcement came after allegations of misconduct raised by the NCAA Buy this photo

By Kyle Swanson, Daily News Editor
Published May 25, 2010

This story has been updated from the original story published on May 25.

University officials admitted to the allegations raised in the NCAA's investigation into Michigan's football program last week, announcing that the program would submit to voluntary sanctions as a result of the investigation into allegations of misconduct.

The University filed a 79-page response with the NCAA last Tuesday, which detailed steps the Athletic Department will voluntarily take, including cuts to the number of quality control staff and the number of hours players will be required to practice.

One specific measure being taken by University and Athletic Department officials will be a 40-percent reduction in quality control staff, which represents an elimination of two positions.

University officials announced they will also prohibit quality control staff from attending practices, games and coach's meetings for the rest of the year, despite a revised NCAA bylaw that now permits such behavior. The response says they will allow the football program to take advantage of the new rule in 2011.

According to the University's response letter, practice time will also be cut for players over the next two years. The program is committing itself to voluntarily cut practice times by approximately 130 hours. The figure is twice the number of hours University officials say the program exceeded NCAA rules on practice times.

The two-year probation is the minimum term allowed by NCAA bylaws.

The University's letter also says that several corrective measures have been implemented to prevent further violations from occurring in the future, which include changes to the process by which practice hours are tracked.

“The University remains committed to rules compliance and will make every effort to avoid being in this position again,” University officials wrote in the letter.

The response letter additionally states that Alex Herron, a graduate assistant football coach who was accused of giving misleading and false testimony to the NCAA, was terminated after the University received the NCAA’s notice of allegations.

University officials also reported that they will issue letters of reprimand to seven individuals in the Athletic Department who were found to be partially responsible for the violations.

“After thorough joint investigation with the Enforcement Staff, the University has concluded that violations occurred for an extended period due to inattention by the football staff, the Compliance Services Office’s failure to contact Rodriguez directly about these issues, ineffective communication between the Compliance Services Office and the strength and conditioning staff, and the failure of athletic administrators to perform tasks the Compliance Services Office requested,” the letter said.

However, University officials say they don’t agree with the allegations that Rodriguez “failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the football program.”

“The University disagrees that Rich Rodriguez failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the football program,” the response states. “The record reflects that Rodriguez has been committed to rules compliance in the football program and the academic success of football student-athletes at the University.”

In a separate 89-page response to the NCAA, Rodriguez’s attorneys wrote that Rodriguez was “surprised” and “disappointed” that the violations were true.

“Rodriguez recognizes that as a head coach, he has a heightened responsibility to monitor his program and promote an atmosphere of compliance. Rodriguez embraces that responsibility,” the response said. “He regrets that he did not adequately monitor certain aspects of his program in this case. Rodriguez has learned from his mistakes and will be a better coach and compliance leader going forward.”

Michael Buckner, a lawyer with Florida-based Michael L. Buckner Law Firm who provides consulting to universities on NCAA cases, told The Michigan Daily in an interview last week that he believed the University’s self-imposed penalties seemed in line with the allegations set forth by the NCAA.

“I think Michigan is doing what most schools are doing,” Buckner said. “Some schools penalize themselves a little more than Michigan is doing, but I thought it was smart that Michigan only imposed a two-year probationary period on itself.”

In determining what sanctions to impose voluntarily, Buckner said he advises his clients to consider past NCAA cases and mitigating factors of the allegations.

“You analyze all that, and based on that analysis, that will determine what kind of self-imposed penalties as well as self-corrective measures you’ll need in order to get the program back where it should be under NCAA legislation,” Buckner said, adding that it is one of the toughest decisions an institution must make during an NCAA investigation.

Buckner also said the tone of the University’s response is something else that will likely be considered by the committee to some degree.

“I think the tone that the University set in its response is one (that) they are trying to demonstrate that they are cooperating with the NCAA, that the violations they did admit to were serious, that several people shared responsibility for the violations, that the University failed to monitor itself and that they were going to take self-corrective measures,” he said.

But despite these positive notes, Buckner said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Committee on Infractions added additional penalties.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the committee came back and added an additional year (to the probation),” Buckner said, noting that additional penalties may be possible, but that it is too early to tell what those may be.

At a press conference held last week, Athletic Director David Brandon said he was glad that the University’s response was finished.

“This is a day of relief,” Brandon said. “We’ve been working on these responses for many, many weeks. There’s been a lot of issues and concerns of what our response is going to be, and now it’s out there.”

Asked at the press conference who was responsible for the NCAA violations, Brandon told reporters that he was.

“I am,” Brandon responded to the question. “The reality is that we had failures across the athletic department, and I take full responsibility for what happened because I’m the director of this program.”

Brandon continued: “Bad decisions were made, there was sloppy handling of information, some of our checks and balances were not implemented as they should have been, we had failures in communication along the chain of command and it led us to where we are today. If there was a single person to be blamed for this, we’d be doing that, but the reality is the blame for this complex set of issues spans a number of different areas and entities within both the football program and the athletic department overall.”

And while the University acknowledged in its response that it had committed major NCAA violations, Brandon said at last week’s press conference he didn’t feel any of the violations actually gave the Michigan football program a competitive advantage.

“When you start talking about not counting stretching and warm-up as part of your allowable hours, it’s a violation,” Brandon said. “But I think it’s a significant leap of logic to conclude that somehow creates a competitive advantage.”

At the press conference, Rodriguez said he was grateful that nothing suggested any harm to student-athletes took place, adding that student-athlete welfare was his highest priority as a head coach.

“The thing that bothered me the most when this whole thing initially started was some insinuations about student-athlete welfare,” Rodriguez said. “There are issues and mistakes were made, but there were no student athlete welfare issues. At least I can take some relief in that.”

In a statement released last week, University President Mary Sue Coleman said she believes the voluntary sanctions are appropriate given the violations.

“As we have said all along, we take full responsibility for knowing and following NCAA rules, and we will address concerns, quickly and head on,” Coleman said. “We believe the sanctions we have imposed fit the nature of the violations.”

In the same statement, Brandon said he is “eager” to move beyond the rules violations.

“We’ve made some mistakes as a program — we know that,” Brandon said. “We also have learned from this experience, we’ve made some necessary improvements, and now we are eager to move forward.”

But the University must first appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions for a final ruling on the alleged violations and to possibly receive additional sanctions. The meeting is currently scheduled for August 13-14.

Buckner told the Daily he thinks the Committee on Infractions is likely to focus in on a few specific points about the University’s response — including the lack of communication between the Compliance Office and coaching staff and what he classified as a delay in action by University officials in following up on the incidents.

“A lot of these violations could have been prevented if (Rodriguez) had been asking the right questions to his staff,” Buckner said.

Because of a May 8, 2003 case involving the men's basketball team, the University could be subject to the NCAA’s repeat violator clause, though University officials say they don’t think it would be warranted. A determination will be made by the Committee on Infractions, which is expected to release its decision in the fall.

However, Buckner said he felt the University effectively argued against the NCAA’s repeat violator clause.

“Michigan did a very good job, I think, of trying to distinguish itself from the first case and to tell the Committee on Infractions, ‘We do not think the repeat violator statue should apply, because of the unique circumstances of that first case,’” he said.

However, Buckner said he doesn’t necessarily agree with the University’s strong defense of Rodriguez and its decision to oppose the allegation that Rodriguez failed to adequately monitor the football program.

“Michigan admitted that the University failed to monitor the football program, which essentially means President Coleman failed to monitor the program, because the president is responsible for everything that happens at the University. But she delegates that responsibility to the Athletic Director, who delegates that responsibility to the compliance office, to make sure that the University complies with all NCAA legislation,” Buckner said. “Well, if the University is going to admit that the University, i.e. President Coleman, failed to monitor the football program, then it stands to reason that Coach Rodriguez should also share the blame.”

Buckner added that he thought the Committee on Infractions will likely focus many of its questions on that specific allegation, since the University denied it.

“That’s probably going to be a lot of the questions from the committee as to how, if he’s supposed to be handling the program, why didn’t he know about a lot of things that did not happen or weren’t happening regarding his program,” Buckner said.

However, the University’s current stance gives it more room to make a more definitive decision about Rodriguez’s employment in the future when more from the NCAA is known.

“They’ve been shielding Coach Rodriguez from this,” Buckner said. “I think Michigan is playing a very smart game of not showing its hand and supporting its coach so that Coach Rodriguez can’t say that Michigan was undermining him.”

Buckner added: “If the NCAA comes back and says, ‘Look, we believe coach Rodriguez is guilty of failure to monitor,' ... Michigan can dismiss him for cause under his contract.”

Rodriguez’s contract gives the University the option to terminate his employment without penalty if he is found to have committed a major NCAA violation.

— Daily Sports Editors Ryan Kartje and Joe Stapleton contributed to this report.