The most significant thing to come out of the NCAA's investigation into Michigan's football program likely won't be the penalties imposed upon the Maize and Blue.
While Michigan likely will be hit with a major violation of some sort, as well as probation and potential loss of practice time/scholarships, the program shouldn't be crippled for 2010 and beyond. As I've written many times, Rich Rodriguez will ultimately be judged by what happens on the field between Sept. 4-Nov. 27, not what happens inside a Seattle conference room in August.
The real impact in all of this is how the NCAA addresses staff stuffing, a topic colleague Bruce Feldman explores in ESPN The Magazine. College football teams are allowed to have nine full-time assistant coaches and two graduate assistants. No one else can participate in coaching or recruiting. But many FBS programs at the top of the food chain keep adding to their football staffs.
As Feldman writes: "You will also notice a host of folks with strange titles: athletic relations coordinator; director of player personnel; assistant director of player personnel; director of player development (two of them, actually); assistant director/football operations; and recruiting operations coordinator. That's a whole lot of golf shirts. ... This kind of stuffed staffing is now the norm in major college football. Call them hidden coaches. And call them a headache for the NCAA."
The NCAA alleges that Michigan quality control staffers engaged in prohibited activities (coaching, monitoring voluntary workouts, attending coaches' meetings) both in-season and out-of-season in 2008 and 2009.
Now to think Michigan was the only program guilty of this is extremely naïve. As a former administrative staffer at a big-time program tells Feldman: "The only way you get caught is if your compliance people go to practice, and most never do. You assume everyone else is doing it too."
Whether or not the staff stuffing continues remains to be seen. Michigan's case could reduce the number of golf shirts you see in team pictures every August.
Says one head coach at a power-conference school: "There's a lot of rule bending going on. It can be a great advantage. You can never have enough eyes out there." This coach, though, thinks the Michigan case is about to bring attention to other programs doing similar things and will eventually prompt NCAA legislation. Until then, of course, teams will continue to exploit loopholes.