Big Ten Hits Michigan With Personal Foul
Game Overshadowed By Further Penalties Under Rodriguez; Holding, Pass Interference Also Suspected
BY MICHAEL ROSENBERG, FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
The University of Michigan football program under Rich Rodriguez has been accused by Big Ten Conference officials of numerous violations of the NCAA rulebook during the Wolverines' game against Illinois on Saturday, the Free Press has learned.
Some of the allegations were confirmed during the game by the officials themselves. When reached for comment, referee David Witvoet said, "Holding. Offense #77. Ten-yard penalty; repeat third down." The Free Press identified #77 as freshman offensive lineman Taylor Lewan. Lewan appeared to be unaware of the rules in an earlier media interview, saying he was sometimes flagged for excessive blocking and, "I don't even know if that's a rule."
The NCAA rulebook reads,
"Holding or illegal obstruction by a teammate of the ball carrier or passer applies to Rule 9-3-3-a: The hand(s) and arm(s) shall not be used to grasp, pull, or encircle in any way that illegally impedes or illegally obstructs an opponent."
But perhaps more troubling is the allegation of a personal foul that occurred during the course of the game. Though Rodriguez has said in the past that "we don't coach our players to do that," the infraction, again confirmed by Big Ten officials, occurred in the third quarter of the Illinois game. Personal fouls are considered a major violation of the NCAA rulebook.
In addition to those penalties already confirmed by the conference, Rodriguez's program is suspected of several other rulebook violations, accused by Illinois players who remain anonymous so as to protect them from possible repercussions. On one play, during which there was contact between a Michigan defender and an Illinois receiver, the pass fell incomplete and the Illinois player was seen waving his hands in a manner that suggested a penalty flag should have been thrown. Several parents of Illinois players - who will also remain anonymous to protect their sons from repercussions - confirmed the accusation, holding their hands to the back of their heads in disbelief.
When reached for comment, Rodriguez appeared calm. "We need to be more aggressive at times and that time it paid off," he said.
Michigan won the game, 67-65.
However, with the program already on probation following the NCAA's confirmation and validation of an earlier Free Press investigation that resulted in the heaviest-ever NCAA sanctions against the Michigan program for earlier violations already committed under Rodriguez's watch, Athletic Director Dave Brandon may finally have no choice but to fire his embattled coach. Brandon and President Mary Sue Coleman could not be reached for comment. But a clause in Rodriguez's contract allows him to be fired for violations of the NCAA rulebook, and with Rodriguez already on a short leash it is thought that Brandon and the Michigan brass have already had discussions regarding his termination.