RichRod's day of reckoning with the NCAA begins

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It’s been a rough two years for Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. Ever since leaving his alma mater West Virginia for the Maize and Blue in December, 2007, Rodriguez’s seat has been consistently hot. But no seat may be hotter than the one he sits on today when he and other U-M officials appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions in Seattle.

Other persons of note in attendance will be university president Mary Sue Coleman, compliance officials Judy Van Horn and Ann Vollano, senior associate athletic director Joe Parker and assistant athletic director for football Scott Draper.

The group will sit in front of a judging panel playing bad cop, worse cop. It’s a scenario that resembles more death by firing squad than a hearing. It’s unfamiliar territory for Rodriguez and Michigan, who are both spoiled from success.

So here’s how the hearing goes:

Rodriguez and U-M are being questioned on five major NCAA violations. They are: an excessive number of coaches, impermissible use of coaches during off-season workouts and exceeding practice and training time limits, graduate assistant Alex Herron lying to investigators, the athletic department failing to monitor the football program to assure compliance with the NCAA and Rodriguez failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

Yikes.

The hearing will begin with opening statements and the enforcement staff (prosecutors) will explain the first allegation. U-M will then issue a response. Next, the Infractions Committee will ask a series of questions regarding the allegation. Everyone from Rodriguez on down the line could be asked to answer something. This procedure is done for each of the five allegations. 

Of those allegations, Michigan has already admitted to four but refutes the fifth that Rodriguez failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance. Their defense? Rodriguez didn’t know he was breaking the rules because according to his defense statement, the boundaries were unclear.

“Rodriguez was not aware that NCAA legislation prohibits sport-specific non-coaching staff members from being involved with voluntary summer workouts,” says the response on page 4-3.

Pleading ignorance typically doesn’t hold much water with the NCAA and West Virginia’s violation 5(a) which states Rodriguez was aware he was breaking the rules contradicts this defense. However, the allegations against WVU will not be on the agenda for discussion today.

The NCAA Will Likely ask Rodriguez what specifically wasn’t clear about the use of quality control coaches — a tough question to answer. The Detroit Free Press brings up two valuable points. What didn’t he (Rodriguez) know, and why didn’t he know it?

You know the phrase “Better to beg for forgiveness later than to ask permission”? Yeah, doesn’t apply here.   

Even with today’s hearings, Rodriguez’s biggest trial will be on the football field this fall, where his ultimate judgment will be made on wins and losses.

Sources close to West Virginia University who are, in turn, close to Rodriguez say he’s miserable in Ann Arbor and with good reason. Rodriguez owns a whopping 3-13 Big Ten record and is 8-16 overall in two years. He heads into 2010 with no clear front-runner at quarterback. He’s lost two highly touted players in cornerback J.T. Turner, who will transfer, and Demar Dorsey who failed to qualify academically.

Rob Wojnowski of the Detroit News sums up the dilemma perfectly. “Rodriguez, 47, is a tough guy and a likable guy. He really is. If he ever found a way to fit here, it could be dynamic.”

Can Rodriguez fit in? Whether you like it or not, Michigan does things the Michigan way. Rich Rodriguez does things the Rich Rodriguez way. Can the two coexist? Starting today they’re going to have to. It’s the day of reckoning for Rodriguez. What will his final judgment be?