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Published: Wednesday, 5/26/2010

Wolverines' damage control fails smell test

ANN ARBOR - There weren't many hints at levity yesterday when athletic director Dave Brandon and football coach Rich Rodriguez met with the media to discuss the University of Michigan's response to NCAA enforcement officials.

Brandon was asked how, if UM players practiced beyond allowable limits and had coaching input from "quality control assistants" at times when such contact was not legal, he could so adamantly feel that the Wolverines gained no competitive advantage.

His answer was a long string of words that probably would bore you. He might have made his point more valid, and drawn a chuckle or two along the way, if he'd just mentioned Rodriguez' record.

Yes, Michigan football is a mess, on the field and off.

Bo and Fritz and Point-a-Minute Yost and Don Canham, the legendary athletic director who pretty much defined institutional control, must be spinning in their graves.

"I don't think this is a black eye," Brandon said of the NCAA investigation. "This is a bruise."

Michigan football has been many things through the years while compiling the winningest record in major college football. Cheater has never been considered one of them, until now. Bruise or black eye?

When asked who was ultimately responsible for the mess, Brandon said, "I am," which is ridiculous, of course, considering he has been on the job for barely more than two months.

The cleanup certainly is his baby. But Rodriguez and much of what has followed, including only eight wins and no bowl games in before the current NCAA stuff hit the fan.

Michigan is accused of five major rules infractions and the only person who has lost his or her job over all of this is one graduate assistant coach, one of the so-called quality control guys, who is alleged by the NCAA to have provided false and misleading information to the enforcement staff.

Anyone else who was involved, from the administrative level to the compliance staff to football staff members got a letter of reprimand.

And Rodriguez? He was nearly elevated to compliance sainthood. If Brandon had his coach's back any more firmly, they would be of one body. Yes, Brandon said, the coach's contract has a clause that stipulates major NCAA infractions could be a cause for termination. No, he said, these particular major NCAA infractions "do not rise to that level."

In regards to three of the five alleged infractions, UM basically threw its hands up and said, "Yeah, you got us." Wolverine players were made to work beyond NCAA time limits, although such violations were said to be minimal, and occasionally received coaching when coaching wasn't allowed. And, yes, the grad assistant wasn't forthright. Guilty as charged.

So UM self-imposed the following penalties: the Wolverines will forfeit two hours of mandatory participation time over the next two years, 130 hours, for every one hour violation that occurred in 2008 and '09. The number of quality control assistants and the extent of their roles will be reduced.

Throw in a couple years of double secret probation for good measure and let's call it a day.

As for the other two allegations, that Rodriguez failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance, and that the athletic department did not properly monitor the program, lack of institutional control, they call it, UM went to the mattress, as old-time gangsters used to say.

No way was either charge considered justified, according to Brandon and Rich Rod. Sure, there was a lack of communication and papers were shuffled out of order and there were a bunch of little mistakes that really don't add up to much and, by God, we're Michigan, so leave us alone.

There were no self-imposed penalties on those issues, no loss of scholarships, no suspensions with or without pay, no recruiting restrictions, etc.

If the NCAA goes along with that - the Committee on Infractions will meet with UM representatives in August and make a final ruling sometime thereafter - then it will, in effect, be agreeing that this was all much ado about nothing.

The committee would be saying, yeah, it's itty-bitty stuff, everybody does it, sorry you got caught, and we really love your stadium renovations.

But if the NCAA decides to play hardball it could add to the self-imposed penalties.

It could make Michigan an example for all those big-time football powers out there that bend the rules. Or it could simply express the opinion that if the football coach found the rules to be "ambiguous" and wasn't properly overseeing players and staff, and if the athletic department wasn't paying attention to what its football coach was doing, well, isn't that the dreaded lack of institutional control?

Brandon and Rodriguez say no.

Common sense says yes.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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