For Michigan, Which is Worse: The Specter of "Major Violations" or Player Dissent?

Take this Detroit Free Press report that Michigan players took part in off-season practices and were subject to in-season demands that broke NCAA restrictions at face value, and the conclusion is a shake of the head at the still-struggling Rich Rodriguez regime.

Dig a little deeper, and the worries start to mount.

The Free Press says it draws from "six current or former players" who gave this description of the Michigan program:

⇥Players on the 2008 and 2009 teams described training and practice sessions that far exceeded limits set by the NCAA, which governs college athletics. The restrictions are designed to protect players’ well-being, ensure adequate study time and prevent schools from gaining an unfair competitive advantage.⇥

⇥The players, who did not want to be identified because they feared repercussions from coaches, said the violations occurred routinely at the direction of Rodriguez’s staff.⇥

⇥

⇥“It’s one of those things where you can’t say something,” one current Wolverine said. “If you say something, they’re going to say you’re a lazy person and don’t want to work hard.”⇥

The obvious: Coaches want their players to work hard and will use peer pressure and fear to help them do that; players will push back if there is too much being demanded.

The not-so-obvious: Players are savvy enough to know what a violation of NCAA rules is and disgruntled enough to tell a newspaper en masse? This should be the worrisome part.

Rodriguez has denied any wrongdoing, saying in a statement to the Free Press, "We know the practice and offseason rules, and we stay within the guidelines. We follow the rules and have always been completely committed to being compliant with all NCAA rules."

But with the details suggesting that Michigan's staff tripled the allowed number of hours for mandatory off-season workouts, routinely exceeded the 20-hour limit for in-season practices, and sapped players to the degree that one player alleges "People were falling asleep in class,” that's hard to believe.

The temptation to make the easy joke (Michigan cheats! And they're not that good!) is also a temptation to conclude that this is an isolated case and that none of the teams beating Michigan are gaining advantages this way. And the bait for the Michigan hater, the idea that there's an NCAA decree of "major violations" and some sanctions on the Maize and Blue's horizon, is less dangerous than what seems like serious player division in Michigan's program.

Grumbling about hard workouts is one thing; cooperating with a newspaper investigation is another. It will not be hard for those players, if they are still part of the program, to be sussed out by the Michigan staff, and it will not be easy for them to part of the program going forward. If your workouts were rough before, anonymous Michigan players, wait until the coaches are not-so-subtly taking out their stress over maybe losing a job because of you. Mike Barwis will be sympathetic, I'm sure.

But, if those players are right, get vindicated, and then get venerated by players who had suspected something was amiss? There you have a team in flux, and the potential for a full season undermined by a few players' statements to a newspaper.

The NCAA penalties are still off in the distance, and, I'd guess, unlikely to come to pass.

But Western Michigan comes to the Big House in six days. And wasn't Rich Rod hired to prevent embarrassing losses in the home opener?

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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