Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon and head coach Rich Rodriguez addressed their responses to the NCAA with the media earlier Tuesday.
Both Brandon and Rodriguez reiterated much of what we saw in the reports, but several things stood out:
Brandon remains firmly in Rodriguez's corner, at least right now. If Michigan fires Rodriguez at any point in the near future, it won't be because of these violations. Like I've said from the beginning, Rodriguez's fate ultimately will be tied to wins and losses. The only "cause" for his dismissal will be losing more games. “These are major violations, we understand that," Brandon said. "They could be interpreted to trigger a dismissal cause in the coach's contract. We do not deem that appropriate in this situation."
Former graduate assistant Alex Herron is the only individual paying a major price in this investigation, as he was fired after Michigan received the NCAA's Notice of Allegations. Brandon said that beyond a letter of reprimand that will "memorialize" the mistakes made during the last two years, the seven individuals identified in Michigan's report, including Rodriguez, face no further discipline. "There were failures along the chain of command," Brandon said. "If there was one single person to be blamed for this, we’d be doing it. The blame spans a number of different areas and entities both in the football program and across the athletic department overall."
Brandon spent much of today's media session deflecting blame from Rodriguez, even taking ultimate responsibility for the situation himself even though he wasn't on the job when the violations took place. He also again pointed to mistakes from longtime Michigan staffers, trying to say this wasn't a Rodriguez problem, but a departmental problem. Although Brandon admitted that a new coaching staff probably didn't help matters, he added, "Most of the people involved in the administrative handling of this are people who have been around for a long time."
Both Brandon and Rodriguez once again walked a fine line regarding the violations themselves. They acknowledged that the violations were major but didn't meet the standard for loss of institutional control. Brandon also went out of his way to stress that he didn't believe the violations provided any sort of competitive advantage for Michigan (he could have cited Rodriguez's 8-16 record, too). Why didn't Michigan penalize itself with scholarship losses, loss of coaches or loss of postseason privileges? Because its crimes didn't fit the punishments.
Will the NCAA agree with Michigan's self-imposed penalties? No one knows yet, but Brandon sounds pretty confident, especially after enlisting experts to help with the response, including former Committee on Infractions chairman Gene Marsh. “The NCAA has the ultimate authority here," Brandon said. "We'll take our case to those folks and ultimately they will decide whether our self-imposed sanctions are appropriate or not."
Rodriguez doesn't think the NCAA situation will affect the team as it prepares for the season, even though he'll need to leave during preseason camp to attend the Committee on Infractions hearings Aug. 13-14 in Seattle. "It’s going to be a relief to get this process over with," he said, "but I don’t think anything will distract our guys."
Brandon strongly supported Rodriguez when it came to his dealings with Michigan's compliance department. "Our compliance group talks about this coach as being as open and as transparent as anyone they’ve ever worked with," Brandon said. "There was absolutely no intent by this coach or any of his assistant coaches to hide anything from compliance. We disagree, I disagree, that Rich failed to provide an atmosphere of compliance. Rich has a history of following the rules." Those are significant words, especially given the NCAA's recent examination of Rodriguez's tenure at West Virginia. Brandon added that compliance issues no longer will be handled by "people at the lower end of the communication chain." These are matters for senior-level staff, and both he and Rodriguez are having a lot of meetings with compliance going forward.
Remember Rodriguez's emotional news conference Aug. 31 in the wake of the media reports detailing the allegations from current and former players? He was most upset by the claim that the football staff neglected the welfare of their players. Michigan's response to the NCAA shows no wrongdoing in this area. "Our student-athletes never felt that there were any issues at all with their welfare," Rodriguez said, "and there never will be."
The last word, from Brandon: "There’s nothing good about the word investigations, there’s nothing good about the word violations, there’s nothing good about the word probation. This is an unfortunate situation. But our history and our tradition and our value system is out there for the world to see. We’ll let our brand and our integrity and our merit stand on our beliefs. We’re accountable, and we’re doing something about it."