Original allegations of the Free Press, examined for truthfulness

Submitted by MaizeAndBlueWahoo on February 25th, 2010 at 12:01 AM
Alright, so.  We know that the Free Press uses dirty tricks, epically low standards, and yellow journalism of the worst kind when covering Michigan football.  Their evil tactics, like ambushing a pair of freshman football players and printing their names as sources despite the earlier promise of anonymity, are not in question.  But what about the meat and potatoes?

Nobody, to my knowledge, and least of all the Freep, has yet gone back to the original articles to, in MGoBlog parlance, verify their voracity.  In plain English, is what they said true?  We should have these answers, as educated Michigan fans.

I have parsed the three original bombshell accusatory articles for direct statements regarding where they claim Michigan football broke the rules.  I have also included the relevant passages from the NCAA's Notice of Allegations that correspond to the Freep accusations, and for the purposes of the exercise, we will assume the NCAA document is pure, unadulterated gospel truth.  In some cases, multiple articles made the same accusations, so I only included each one once.  I've also left out statements that used debatable weasel words like "far exceeded" or "many," so as not to get into arguments over how many is "many," or such other ambiguities.

Article #1: "Michigan football program broke rules, players say"

The Free Press says:

"The University of Michigan consistently has violated NCAA rules governing offseason workouts, in-season demands on players, and mandatory summer activities under coach Rich Rodriguez."

The NCAA says:

It is alleged that from January 2008 to at least September 2009, the scope and nature of the violations detailed in Allegation Nos. 1 and 2 demonstrate that Rich Rodriguez, head football coach, failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the football program and failed to adequately monitor the duties and activities of the quality control staff members, a graduate assistant coach and a student assistant coach, and the time limits for athletically related activities.

Verdict: TRUE.  A generic statement, vindicated by the equally generic tack-on that the NCAA would have added no matter what the scope of what they found.  Blame always falls on the head coach.

Article #2: "What the Free Press found"

- The Free Press says:

"Required offseason football activities are limited to 8 hours a week, including film review.  (Players) are routinely expected to spend two to three times that amount in workout sessions.  Offseason work is mandatory."

- The NCAA says:

(2) Between June 2 and July 25, 2008, football student-athletes sometimes participated in as many as 10 hours of voluntary weight-training and conditioning activities per week, which exceeded the maximum of eight hours a week.

Verdict: FALSE.  We begin the filthy lies from the Freep, and this is one of the most insidious.  The NCAA itself characterized the work as voluntary rather than mandatory, and the violation, though present, falls far short of the Freep's characterization.  Remember, the NCAA accusation tops off at 10 hours, meaning that it may be less - perhaps even as little as 20 minutes over.  Certainly not 16 to 24 hours as the Freep accuses.

- The Free Press says:

"If athletes don't do all the required strength and conditioning, they must come back to finish or are punished with more work."

- The NCAA says:

Nothing.  This is not alleged.

Verdict: Probably TRUE, by the letter, but not a violation as claimed by the Freep; or if so, lumped into the extra hours already mentioned in the NCAA allegations.

- The Free Press says:

"Rodriguez's quality-control staffers (who work for the coaches) frequently watch scrimmages.  Players say they believe attendance is noted and performances are evaluated."

- The NCAA says:

It is alleged that from January 2008 through September 2009, the institution's football program exceeded the permissible limit on the number of coaches by five when quality control staff members (noncoaching sport-specific staff members who were not counted as countable coaches) engaged in on-field and off-field coaching activities.

Verdict: TRUE, and far more so than even the Freep said.  In their zeal to overstate the amount of practice and workout time the team put in, they actually managed to gloss over this part.  The NCAA's allegations run much deeper than the Freep's here.  The Freep's coverage in the following days would focus solely on the exceeded practice limits and ignored this issue entirely.

- The Free Press says:

"There is a 4-hour daily limit and a 20-hour weekly limit during the season for all football-related activities, including practices, weight-lifting, conditioning, film-watching, and meetings.  (Players) typically spent at least nine hours on football activities on Sundays after games last fall and often exceeded the 20-hour weekly limit."

- The NCAA says:

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, 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 exceeds the maximum of 20 hours per week.

Verdict: A filthy, disgusting FALSEhood.  "Often exceeded the 20-hour weekly limit" has become "once, for 20 minutes."  "At least nine hours on Sundays" has become "as many as five."  (Those dates were in fact Sundays.)  This was one of the accusations at the core of the Freep report and it has been watered down to the point where the university might well be able to argue it completely away.  The Freep could have maintained credibility by simply claiming the program had exceeded limits and left it at that, but they made the mistake of hearing what they wanted to hear and then writing it.

Article #3: "A look inside Rodriguez's rigorous program"

- The Free Press says:

"'It (offseason workouts) was mandatory,' one player said.  'They'd tell you it wasn't, but it really was.  If you didn't show up, there was punishment.'"

- The NCAA says:

Nothing.  This is not addressed.

Verdict: Indeterminate.  There may, in fact, have been "punishment", but what the players see as punishment and what the NCAA sees are likely different.  However, shame on the Freep for purposely not making the distinction, nor attempting to dig further into the meaning of "punishment." 

- The Free Press says:

"Several players said that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays during the past two offseasons, they were expected to be in the weight room for three to four hours, followed by a run of 45 minutes to an hour.  Players said that on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they were expected to spend two to three hours working on speed and agility. That brings the total time commitment to 15-21 hours a week - more than the NCAA's weekly 8-hour limit, which includes time spent watching film."

- The NCAA says:

(2) Between June 2 and July 25, 2008, football student-athletes sometimes participated in as many as 10 hours of voluntary weight-training and conditioning activities per week, which exceeded the maximum of eight hours a week.

Verdict: Again, FALSE.  Again, if the Free Press had been content with simply claiming that limits were exceeded, they could retain credibility, but they swung for the fences and ended up liars.  Remember, the magnitude of violations rather than their mere existence was a central theme of these articles.

- The Free Press says:

"On top of the regular workout schedule, every Tuesday during winter term, a few players on the team are required to spend additional hours at Schembechler Hall for what they call 'Torture Tuesdays.'"

- The NCAA says:

Between January 27 and March 15, 2008 (and January 12 and March 14, 2009), football student-athletes were sometimes required to participate in as many as 10 hours of countable athletically related activities per week, which exceeded the maximum of eight hours a week.

Verdict: I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say TRUE.  It's at least plausible that Torture Tuesdays caused the number to rise past eight.  This is what I mean by being less specific and accusatory so as to remain truthful.

- The Free Press says:

"Several players said Rodriguez's coaches were more likely to insist they participate in seven-on-seven scrimmages, which have become more frequent.  They also said that members of the quality control staff frequently watched seven-on-sevens.  'They usually just watched and would write down who wasn't there,' one player on the 2008 team said."

- The NCAA says:

During 2008 and 2009 voluntary summer workouts, five quality control staff members, one graduate assistant football coach and one student assistant football coach (2009 only) regularly monitored and conducted skill-development activities that occurred two days a week, even though they were not strength and conditioning coaches who were not countable coaches and who performed such duties on a department-wide basis.  Additionally, some of the quality control staff members and the graduate assistant coach sometimes observed seven-on-seven passing activities and provided advice and/or corrections to football student-athletes pertaining to technique.

Verdict: Well, the first sentence isn't a violation, though the Freep would have you believe it is.  But again, the allegation is substantially TRUE, and unfortunately for U-M, again it goes much deeper than even the Freep claimed.

- The Free Press says:

"Players also said members of the coaching staff lingered nearby to watch seven-on-seven scrimmages.  Players said the coaches were not physically coaching them, but their presence made it apparent that attendance was being noted and their performances were being evaluated.  NCAA rules require such scrimmages to be voluntary."

- The NCAA says:

Nothing.  There is no mention of the actual coaching staff being present.

Verdict: Probably TRUE, but apparently not a violation.  However, notice the weaselly phrasing.  Even if every word is perfectly true, the "noting of attendance" would not constitute mandatory participation, as no mention is made of punishment.  The truthfulness of the passage does not excuse the yellow journalism present.

- The Free Press says:

"And when the season started, every week began with a violation."

- The NCAA says:

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, on several occasions, including, but not limited to, August 31; September 7, 14, and 28; and October 5, 12, 19, and 26. 

Verdict: Technically TRUE, but we've gone over this....

- The Free Press says:

"Rodriguez required his players to arrive at Schembechler Hall by noon the day after games.  They would then go through a full weight-lifting session, followed by individual position meetings and a full-team meeting.  Then, at night, they would hold a full practice.  Often, they would not leave the practice facility until after 10 PM.  The NCAA limit is 4 hours a day for required activities."

- The NCAA says:

See above.

Verdict: FALSE.  Five hours is not the same thing as ten-plus.  It appears the Free Press needs to brush up on the definition of "countable" before accusing anyone of a violation of this.

- The Free Press says:

"With three hours on Saturday and a full day on Sunday, players tallied about 12 hours on those two days.  They were off Monday.  Players said they would spend an additional three to four hours with the team on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons, bringing the weekly total to 21-24 hours."

The NCAA says:

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 exceeds the maximum of 20 hours per week.

Verdict: FALSE.  The Freep did a little math here, and it blows up in their face, or would if anyone were to hold them accountable for it.  That the program is accused of a one-time excess of 20 minutes, and that that is the full extent of any mention of any violations of the 20-hour limit, should be evidence enough that not only is the Freep lying, the program ought to be considered very much in compliance with this rule.


Unsurprisingly, the answer is that the Free Press's original allegations largely hold no water.  The central theme was that Rich Rodriguez pushed his players far beyond the bounds allowed by the NCAA; that he would hold them unrealistically accountable for missing activities that were supposed to be voluntary; that he cavalierly and repeatedly exceeded limitations on football activities.  This was the party line in the days following the expose.  Columnists and editorialists wrung their hands over a culture out of control; one that chewed up and spit out 18-to-22-year-old kids with no regard for their welfare, in the overzealous pursuit of success.  It was an easy connection to make.  Rodriguez comes from football-mad, "uncultured" West Virginia with a reputation for profanity and screaming, so painting the picture of him as a control freak with no concern for his charges beyond what they could do for him between the sidelines required no imagination at all.

The Free Press correctly pointed out that QC staffers overstepped their bounds as well, and the irony here is that despite getting it right, the Freep allowed their shoddy journalism to overshadow it.  This was virtually ignored.  It is, at the foundation of it, a broken rule as plain as a broken window, and U-M appears to be as guilty as the kid standing outside holding a baseball bat.  Of all "unfair advantages" U-M may have gained, this is the biggest, the most glaring, and the most black-and-white.  It is Allegation Number One.  And the promotion of Adam Brathwaite to an actual coaching position shows that a clear benefit was gained.  Yet in their crusade to make Rich Rodriguez into a monster, they glossed over it and treated it as secondary.

Yet the primary accusations turned out to be watered-down at best, and at worst, completely false.  The best the Free Press can claim is that their activity-time overage accusations coincide roughly with what the NCAA found; in the worst-case scenario for the Freep, certain of their claims turned out to be total inventions, completely unsubstantiated by the NCAA investigation.  In certain other cases, they presented ambiguous situations and implied that they, too, were violations of NCAA rules.  Many of these statements were even factually true and used to paint the harsh picture of the program.  Though not tied to a cited NCAA rule, the clear implication was that they were still against the rules.

All this doesn't play into their current viewpoint, of course.  As they and their slappies see it, the Free Press uncovered violations and the NCAA has confirmed them.  Details be damned.  That the violations alleged by the NCAA and those alleged by the Free Press are often substantially different does not concern them.

P.S. As a final note, Michigan fans may be interested in being reminded that the week of October 19, 2008 was in between a 46-17 drubbing at the hands of Penn State and the following week's MSU game.  Raise your hand if you didn't expect a little extra work to be put in that week and if you wouldn't demand the same again.



February 28th, 2010 at 12:19 PM ^

These allogations are absurdly picky compared to major violations like head coaches handing out cash to recruits or running backs driving around in cars "loaned" by alumni.

Around this household, we find the FREEP does make an excellent fish wrap.


February 28th, 2010 at 1:32 PM ^

The fact of the matter is, if Rosenberg is honest and does the normal investigative work on the actual NCAA rule his story is boiled down to "UM is 20 minutes a week over the limit".

There is no way that eats up national headlines for months on end so he goes with the concealment of the actual countable hours rules - the rest of the media is brainless to dig into it - and for months we get headlines of "UM is 20 hours a week over the limit and it hurts the kids." This is much more sensational, sells more copies, and hurts a man he is on record over the radio as saying he wants removed.

No one in the media wants to go back and actually use their brain cells to look at Rosenberg's honesty because Rod was over...by 20 minutes a week, if not the original false claim of 20 hours.

Mountaineers Fanatic

March 1st, 2010 at 5:46 PM ^

You know what's really pathetic about this whole thing? Any sports new source, ESPN, Fox, ect, could report the same thing on any other program and the NCAA would find that they have violated just as many rules as Michigan did. I'm not saying Michigan can do it because everyone else is doing it also, but that pretty much is what's going on.

Michigan will probably lose a coach and may even lose a scholly or two, but I think that will be the end of it. If UM can show that they didn't gain an advantage by over practicing and misunderstanding of the rules caused the other violations, all while showing they are taking steps so that this doesn't happen again, the NCAA will go light on Michigan. And I bet that will tear the FP up inside. I can't wait to see what they write about RR, Michigan, and the NCAA after the results/penalties are handed down

The FannMan

March 2nd, 2010 at 6:41 PM ^

This was a nice post, balanced and well written.

But, I am tied of this. A bad newpaper streched a story to sell copies. Wow, no kidding. That, like, never happens.

The Freep sucks. Yeah - I've already read all 1,000 of those posts.

We ran afoul of some porition or other of the volumes of NCAA rules about practice and the NCAA is going to slap our collective wrist. Yawn. (Spare me the line of BS about how Michigan used to be so pristine and "above this". That is just plain naive.)

In the big picture, this Freep-NCAA jihad doesn't matter at all. It is just filling air time for talk raido and selling papers to delay the Freep-News bankruptcy, while giving people who like to yell at Rich Rod something to froth at mouth over.

If RR wins, this will all be forgotten. If not, then he will be gone this year or next.

My apologies to the OP who really did nice work. I guess I needed to get this off my chest. How many days until the damn season starts?