Michigan: Where ‘Voluntary’ Still Means Something

The Rich Rodriguez Era enters its second season in Michigan, and it can’t possibly be worse than the first, right? After all, going 3-9 at Michigan is like going 0-12 at most other schools and having half your team arrested for something the authorities ominously refer to as “gross horse exploitation.” So it has to get better; it’s not like Rodriguez turned into a bad coach when he left West Virginia, right?

Mike Barwis doesn't take guff
(Sure, the workout’s voluntary, just as long as you know that this man will kill you with his bare hands if you don’t show up.)

At the same time, the defense is a mess, the quarterback situation is like a 3-headed hydra (if the hydra had AIDS), and it’s hard to see where many more wins come from this year. Ah, but this is where vaunted S&C Mike Barwis steps in and whips the whole program into shape and Michigan’s back to being great! Problem solved, let’s all go home and eat waffles.

But wait. About that, the whole Barwis offseason program, um… here’s the thing: if what Michigan players are telling the local press is true, it’s blatantly violating all sorts of NCAA rules.

The DETROIT FREE PRESS has the unbelievable story of over a dozen players and parents essentially blowing the whistle on Barwis’ regimen:

The University of Michigan football team consistently has violated NCAA rules governing off-season workouts, in-season demands on players and mandatory summer activities under coach Rich Rodriguez, numerous players told the Free Press.

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.

On one hand, the case being made here seems as airtight as possible. The Free Press says six former and current players gave nearly identical accounts of Barwis’ regimen, and even if they were making half of it up (which is unlikely, to say the least), the other half is still a big problem when it comes to NCAA compliance. There’s no good way to paint this report.

The problem, however, is that the Free Press doesn’t acknowledge an unfortunately obvious truth: this happens, like, everywhere. If newspapers prodded hard enough at every BCS school, 90% of them would reveal significant similarities to what’s being described here.

That this is making waves at Michigan, then, reveals the real story here, which is that current and former players are willing to rat out the Rodriguez staff, whereas most other teams’ players wouldn’t dream of such behavior.

Given Michigan’s history, in fact, this is hardly an accident or even an indictment of Rodriguez; if anything, says DR. SATURDAY, this says more about former coach Lloyd Carr (emphasis ours):

In that sense, assuming that Carr’s staff really were the sticklers they’re widely reputed to be (an assumption backed up by the Free Press’ reports), the exuberance of their successors is just another case of Rodriguez and Barwis bringing the program into the 21st Century. The fact that they’re being singled out may only be because they’re doing it at one of the very few places that knows the difference.

Indeed, the only player who didn’t request anonymity was a freshman, Je’Ron Stokes, who detailed a brutally difficult offseason schedule but wasn’t complaining, probably due to the fact that he either didn’t know or didn’t care about the rules. That’s a fact of life at most football factory schools, and it’ll soon be a fact of life in Ann Arbor as well. In the meantime, though, expect more grousing, both public and private, from Carr-era Wolverine veterans who don’t much care for being told what’s voluntary and what’s not.