don't call it a comeback, jihad's been here for years
After Tuesday's press conference we have all been apprised of what Michigan stands accused of and can go back to the original article and this site's response to that article and evaluate those claims for accuracy. One thing leaps out at me about my response: having little experience with "major violations" that didn't involve hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash changing hands, I didn't comprehend where the line between "secondary" and "major" lies. It turns out that everything down to a few TRENCH WARRIOR hats is major, so this paragraph that wraps up my deconstruction of the journalism-type substance turns out to be wrong:
The Free Press systematically overstated their case by omitting contextual information and misrepresenting quotes about voluntary workout programs. They have repeatedly raised the specter of major, program-crippling sanctions. They took a side, and if that side turns out to be wrong the people responsible for the story should be held responsible for their errors in judgment.
They won't, of course. If and when Michigan releases the results of its internal probe and announces they've come up with either nothing or a pu-pu platter of secondary violations, people will laugh at NCAA enforcement, cite the Jerry Tarkanian quote, and laud the journalistic effort that went into proving football players play a lot of football.
…but only the word "secondary." Michigan will get hit with a major violation after all. They will take some largely symbolic punishment. This is not victory for the University. But it's closer to a win for them (and it's not very close) than it is for the Free Press.
A series of quotes. The Free Press:
Players spent at least nine hours on football activities on Sundays after games last fall. NCAA rules mandate a daily 4-hour limit. The Wolverines also exceeded the weekly limit of 20 hours, the athletes said.
"The allegations are true," Clemons said. "Nothing is fabricated or exaggerated in that story. I was there on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. depending on if guys needed treatment. You were there daylight to nighttime."
I am willing to wager many amounts of money that the Sunday lifting was of the variety that fits the NCAA's definition of voluntary, as was the film. The rehab/examinations/dinner and any downtime in between practice and film and other activities definitely don't count. At no point has anyone in the media even broached this possibility. It has not occurred to them. Some of them specifically omit it because it conflicts with their aims; some are just professional parrots.
When Michigan releases its compliance information, Michigan will check in at four hours of countable activity on Sunday. If they're over at all it will be by a small amount. I bet a dollar.
Between August 31 and October 26, 2008, football student-athletes were required to participate in as many as five hours of countable athletically related activities per day, which exceeded the maximum of four hours a day, on several occasions, including, but not limited to, August 31; September 7, 14 and 28; and October 5, 12, 19 and 26. Additionally, during the week beginning October 19, 2008, the student-athletes were required to participate in approximately 20 hours and 20 minutes of countable athletically related activities, which exceeded the maximum of 20 hours per week. [NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168]
Someone owes me a dollar.
There is another allegation accusing the program of even slighter overages (a half-hour at most) during the early parts of the 2009 season, after the article came out. We will see why Michigan went over when the details come out, but it's safe to say given David Brandon's statements that Michigan will argue they were erroneously lumping stretching in with various explicitly non-countable activities. Michigan's violations were borne of incompetence, sloppiness, and misinterpretation.
That's not why the Free Press story was major news last year. No one picks up the story "Michigan could be slightly over their daily allotted maximum in countable hours." The lurid allegations that Michigan was not just exceeding but totally ignoring NCAA limits on football-related activities are the entire crux of the Free Press article. With one brief assertion that the players interpreted the technically voluntary activities as mandatory, the Free Press dismisses the idea that a non-countable hour exists. In this they were not only totally wrong but dishonest. Honesty requires framing the facts in a responsible way. No effort was made at this.
They omitted useful context like this statement from NCAA president Myles Brand:
"Once you get past 40 hours, you're really pushing it, I think."
It took two seconds to Google that. It came from an article in an obscure paper called "USA Today" that featured a survey that found D-I football players spent 45 hours a week on football-related activities.
They kept every player who spoke anonymous, even those who had left the program, except for the freshmen whose words they twisted badly. They ignored a raft of articles with quotes that provide context relative to other Division I programs:
To combat any complacency, Meyer has ordered strength coach Mickey Marotti to design the most difficult offseason that Florida's ever had.
"If there's any resistance," Meyer said, "that guy's not going to play."
And they didn't put the word "countable" in their story once. This was not ignorance: when I asked Mike Rosenberg if he knew what a "countable hour" was, he said yes. Mark Snyder, ironically, refused to answer.
They did all this in service of making Michigan's marginal rules violations—violations that college football coaches attest to SportsCenter anchors would befall 90% of Division I—seem utterly lawless. A newspaper that cared about journalism would fire everyone involved with the story now that the NCAA's worst-case scenario has definitively proven that the truth was a secondary objective in the Free Press story, if it was considered at all.
As for the program: we don't know the details of what went on yet so I can't say whether or not this has a major impact on my opinion of Rodriguez. The NCAA allegations fall in a gray area where it's not immediately clear how bad the violations actually are or are not.
The in-season overages are laughable, consisting of some days that were slightly too long and exactly twenty minutes of actual extra time beyond the 20-hour weekly limit. If the out-of-season overages are entirely encompassed by extra conditioning for kids who missed class, they're stupid on the part of someone in the department but basically honorable. I think there will be other things, though, as there are overages for both "voluntary" conditioning and summer countable hours. What those things are will matter.
The situation with the quality control staffers—obvious here from day one as the most damaging section of the allegations—is potentially worse. I've heard plenty of potential mitigating factors and some of the charges, like "QC staffer helps players stretch," are self-evidently TRENCH WARRIOR-type violations. Others seem like organized efforts to avoid NCAA rules. If they are that's at the very least stupid. If Michigan has a reasonable explanation for this that the NCAA accepts, fine. I've heard they will, but that remains the quintessential rumor you want to believe.
I'll withhold judgment on the program until then. My guess is that it will be sloppy on Rodriguez's part and worse for certain members of the compliance staff. After some heads roll and Michigan gives back some practice time, it will be over. Dave Brandon has quite a job to do reorganizing the department into something competent.
This is a softball strike against Rodriguez. Another NCAA investigation that turns up anything major and he's gone. Does it affect how much he needs to win next year? Not for me personally, and I don't think for anyone important.
What would change that? Sanctions, self-imposed or not, that seem to seriously impinge on the program's ability to compete the next two years. Scholarship reductions that last past 2010. (IE: are anything other than symbolic.)
A final note: I can't emphasize enough how much of a hit job this was. Until such time as Drew Sharp, Michael Rosenberg, and Mark Snyder are no longer at the paper, if you are a Michigan fan with a Free Press subscription you should terminate it immediately. If you link to a Free Press article it should be the print page and it should be nofollowed. If you visit the Free Press website, you should have adblock on. If you write for Michigan's Rivals site you should not write for the Free Press. It's not because they took a swing at Michigan's program. It's because they were blatantly dishonest in doing so.