More From Toney Clemons; Sean Griffin, More Parents Speak

By · Monday, August 31, 2009 · 10:45 AM |  Share | Leave a Comment 

Michigan’s press conference at 11 would normally be to talk about the game coming up on Saturday, but I’d be shocked if that was mentioned at all.  The national media are flying in for this, and ESPN is going to carry it live.  You know what the subject of the presser is going to be, and I just hope Rich Rodriguez comes out of it okay.  The questions will be relentless, but Rodriguez’s answers will give us an idea of where this is going.  I’m assuming he will make a statement similar to the written one he released in response to the Free Press’ story, but beyond that it’s left to be seen.

In the mean time, more people are speaking out about these allegations.

Toney Clemons already has spoke to ESPN’s Joe Schad, and now he has talked with the Free Press as well.  Aside from saying he’s honest and reiterating that he will tell the truth if the NCAA calls him asking questions, Clemons compared the three coaches he has played for.

“I’ve played for three coaches, I’ve seen three different systems, three different personalities of programs,” said Clemons, from New Kensington, Pa. “Not every coach does that. With Coach Carr coming in as freshmen, we understood the rules early in the summertime. We never had anybody come out and monitor anything that they weren’t allowed to be there for. And compliance at the University of Colorado is real in tune. They make sure that we know the rules.”

Clemons said most players were willing to work beyond the required hours, and that at Colorado “it becomes mandatory through your teammates. It’s not forced upon you by the coaching staff.”

He added: “The difference that came with it, and what really bothered the people, was that if they missed it, the things they had to do for missing it. It became a problem whenever people would miss a workout and had to be punished or reprimanded for missing one.”

Former Michigan long snapper Sean Griffin, who played for both Lloyd Carr and Rich Rodriguez, talked with Angelique Chengelis and shared his thoughts on the situation.

Sean Griffin, long snapper for Michigan last season, said he assumes most of the allegations are from “disgruntled ex-players or guys who transferred.”

He said he frequently worked with the special teams during the offseason and that an allegation in the report that Rodriguez’s staff broke rules by monitoring offseason scrimmages was not true, as far as he could tell.

“When I was helping with the specialists, there was never a coach, a graduate assistant, or a quality control coach there,” he said. “I wasn’t sitting there writing everything down and reporting to a coach. I worked out with a few of the new guys.

“I would just do that because people helped me out when I was younger.”

A couple parents of players have already spoken out about these allegations and basically denied them, and more are continuing to do the same thing.

Grand Rapids Catholic Central standout Obi Ezeh now plays linebacker for the Michigan Wolverines. His parents say they’re stunned by the accusations, and they don’t believe the coaching staff would break NCAA rules. Nkechy Obi told FOX 17 News, “When I read the report, the one thing I said to myself is what’s wrong in kids working hard, why is it being twisted now, that they’re breaking the rule? I don’t think the coaches are breaking any rules and I don’t think my son would go along with it.”

Je’Ron Stokes’ father posted that he believes it’s pathetic for the Free Press to twist his son’s quotes and went on to say that “Coach Rich Rod, and his staff run a very respectable program.”  Stokes was one of the freshman who talked to the Free Press about his workouts without knowing what he said was going to end up in this investigation.  His quotes simply read like those of an excited freshman, and they ended up in the Free Press as “evidence” against Rich Rodriguez.

Michael Schofield’s father, who talked with TomVH at mgoblog yesterday, had his full message posted on the site.  It’s worth a read for sure. (Also at mgoblog is a journalist’s take on the Free Press’ story.)

Toney Clemons, Morgan Trent, & Chad Henne Comment on Allegations

By · Sunday, August 30, 2009 · 8:07 PM |  Share | 12 Comments 

Two former Michigan players who played for Rich Rodriguez have commented on the record about the allegations U-M is facing.

One of them, Toney Clemons, left the team earlier this year and transferred to Colorado, citing that he wanted to play in a different offense.  He spoke to ESPN’s Joe Schad, and his comments did not do Michigan any favors.

“The allegations are true,” Clemons said. “Nothing is fabricated or exaggerated in that story. I was there on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. depending on if guys needed treatment. You were there daylight to nighttime.”

“On Sunday, it was lifting, film, dinner and practice,” Clemons told Schad. “I usually got out around 10:20. I truly don’t want to be associated with the program back there. But I am going to help benefit my teammates back there by speaking and giving testimony.”

Helping which teammates, Toney?  Sure, you’re helping the few current players who spoke to the Free Press and don’t like how much time they have to spend on football, and I’m sure there are others who feel the same way but didn’t speak out.  But what about the rest (majority) of the team?  Do you think people like Brandon Minor and Brandon Graham, who are seniors and want to win this season, appreciate you making this situation even worse for Michigan?  I doubt it.  By now the damage is already done from the report itself, but the more former players like Clemons come out and go beyond simply confirming that the story is true, the worse this situation gets for Michigan.

Another former player, Morgan Trent, who didn’t transfer but simply graduated, spoke to Angelique Chengelis today on the record.

“Yes, we were there all day it seemed sometimes,” said Trent, a former Michigan cornerback now in his first season with the Cincinnati Bengals. “But if you expect to win, that’s the sacrifice you make. I was a senior (last season under Rodriguez) — I just wanted to win, that’s all.”

Chad Henne, who played his last game before Rich Rodriguez took over, spoke to Dave Birkett and echoed similar feelings, saying that putting in more than 20 hours was necessary to become a better player.

“Twenty hours is a very, very small portion of what you do, especially if you’re a quarterback at a high-profile school,” Henne, now with the Miami Dolphins, said in a phone interview Sunday. “Twenty hours isn’t enough for you. You have to be in there by yourself, studying film, no coaches around, and doing it on your own. That’s where the leadership comes in and that’s where, if you want to get better and play better, you have to do it on your own.”

Henne went on to say that while he wasn’t obligated to be there all that extra time, the hours really were already racked up enough just by practicing.  He also shared his thoughts on the players who spoke out to the media.

“I really think whoever’s saying it really doesn’t want to be there,” Henne said. “If they’re saying that then they’re not really worried about the team, they’re not worried about what they’re going to do during their season and they’re kind of just giving themselves up. That’s just negative talk right there. So whoever it is just really doesn’t care about the team, I would say.

“If they’re complaining about that, then they don’t want to be the best they can be and that’s their own fault.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Bill Martin: Michigan Has Launched Full Investigation

By · Sunday, August 30, 2009 · 6:41 PM |  Share | 7 Comments 

Athletic director Bill Martin has released a statement on the allegations that Michigan violated NCAA rules.

We are committed to following both the letter and the intent of the NCAA rules and we take any allegations of violations seriously.

We believe we have been compliant with NCAA rules but nonetheless we have launched a full investigation of the allegations in today’s newspaper.

We have already reached out to both the Big Ten and the NCAA and we will have more to say on this as soon as we have completed our assessment.

Angelique Chengelis reports that a couple things have to happen before the NCAA launches an investigation.  The first thing is that Michigan has to investigate the allegations, which it is going to do.  Michigan will then take its findings to the Big Ten, and it is from there that it will be determined if the NCAA has to intervene.

Chengelis also got comments from some former players who chose to not be identified.

“It doesn’t surprise me by any means,” a former player, who asked not to be identified, said Sunday regarding the allegations. “It always seemed that way. It did get worse when Rich Rod was there. None of the players really counted the hours.

“I was a senior, and I really thought, ‘Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be — maybe this is what it takes to win.’ So I didn’t complain. I just think they came in last year with the attitude that we had to be tough. I actually heard it got a little easier this year.”

He went on to say that this happens at every school, as did another player Chengelis talked to.

“Every team does that, more or less,” said another former Michigan player. “Everyone knows voluntary workouts you don’t have to be there, but you have to be there. A lot of guys don’t even know about the rule, but everybody signed the sheets (indicating you kept to the 20-hour rule). It was never a big deal. Those sheets were signed, and that’s the only paper trail there is.”

I will stress that just because every school bends the rules doesn’t make it right.  The problem for Michigan is that, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, current and former players were willing to tell the media about how they went over the limit.  That still is more troubling to me than the actual allegations.

Two Parents of Players Deny Allegations

By · Sunday, August 30, 2009 · 3:32 PM |  Share | 6 Comments 

Tom of mgoblog caught up with the fathers of Tate Forcier and Michael Schofield to get their take on Michigan’s alleged NCAA violations.  Basically, Mike Forcier said that nothing Tate is doing at Michigan is different from what his other sons went through at Stanford and UCLA.  Mike Schofield called out the Free Press for not mentioning all of the other things football players do, including going to study hall and visiting kids.  Also, he ended his comments by saying, “Without names, this article means nothing to me.”  I agree with him.  I realize the players spoke out on the condition of anonymity, but without knowing their names, it’s impossible to judge the credibility of these allegations.

Sorting Through Michigan’s Alleged NCAA Violations

By · Sunday, August 30, 2009 · 3:05 PM |  Share | 6 Comments 

Right on the cusp of the first game week of the season, the last thing any team needs is a distraction.  Whether it is in the form of an injury, a quote from a press conference, or something else, distractions are never welcome with a game right around the corner.  Unfortunately, an enormous distraction has hit Michigan with less than a week until the first game: allegations of NCAA violations.

The Free Press put together a report on how much time Michigan players spent at the football facility during the season and how much time they spent participating in offseason workouts that have a very big gray area as far as whether or not they were mandatory or voluntary.  The details in the report were provided by “current or former” players, which is more troubling than the allegations in my opinion.  Former players speaking out about this is no big surprise, but for players still on the team to basically tell on the coaches is astounding.  Regardless of what you think about the allegations (which I’ll get to in a second), the source of them is the most troubling part and worries me about the current status of the locker room.

The allegations put forth are basically about how much time players are allowed to spend on football each day and each week.  In the offseason, players are allowed only eight hours of mandatory workouts a week.  They can spend more time than that working out, but only on a voluntary basis.  That is where a gray area exists, though anyone who has played a sport before knows that voluntary stuff is voluntary only for people who don’t want to play.  A phrase Michigan coaches have says it best: “Workouts aren’t mandatory, but neither is playing time.”

In the past two off-seasons, players said, the Wolverines were expected to spend two to three times more than the eight hours allowed for required workouts each week. Players are free to exceed the limit, but it must be truly voluntary.

The players said the off-season work was clearly required. Several of them said players who failed to do all the strength and conditioning were forced to come back to finish or were punished with additional work.

“It was mandatory,” one player said. “They’d tell you it wasn’t, but it really was. If you didn’t show up, there was punishment. I just felt for the guys that did miss a workout and had to go through the personal hell they would go through.”

The quote above shows much of a gray area this is.  If the coaches said the workouts weren’t mandatory but pointed out that neither is playing time, that doesn’t mean that they were officially required.  Like I said earlier, anybody who has played sports knows that you better be there if you want to see the field, but that still doesn’t mean the workouts are officially mandatory.  If there is an actual physical punishment for not attending a voluntary workout, then you are walking a very fine line.  If the punishment is simply not playing and being in the doghouse, however, then the only issue is the fact that the coaches knew who was and wasn’t going to the workouts.  That’s another fine line, as attendance isn’t supposed to be taken for voluntary workouts.  Again, though, if you’ve ever played sports and didn’t show up to a voluntary workout, you can bet the coaches would find out about it one way or another.  Another gray area exists in that sense, as it depends on if official attendance was being taken or if it was all word of mouth.

The next allegation has to do with in-season time spent on football.  No more than 20 hours a week can be spent on it, and that includes no more than four hours a day.

Players spent at least nine hours on football activities on Sundays after games last fall. NCAA rules mandate a daily 4-hour limit. The Wolverines also exceeded the weekly limit of 20 hours, the athletes said.

The allegation about Sundays was backed up by ESPN’s Joe Schad, who posted the following two things on Twitter.

Former Michigan starter tells me he would put in 11-hour days on Sundays (4 hour required is max)

Another UM player told me he was usually the facility on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. The maximum allotment per day is 4 hours.

Once again, we have a gray area.  I do find it surprising that players were at the facility for that long on the day after a game, but how much of their time there was mandatory?  Stuff like spending time with the medical staff and eating lunch are not counted against the four-hour daily maximum, and later in the Free Press’ story it says that players weren’t required to show up until noon.  A weight-lifting session was first on the agenda, and then there were meetings.  A practice, usually under the lights, concluded the day.  It still looks like Michigan exceeded the limit, but by how much when you break down what players actually did on Sundays?  Overall, it appears Michigan went over the 20-hour limit as well, but as the Free Press later concludes, it wasn’t by more than a few hours.

With three hours on Saturday and a full day on Sunday, players tallied about 12 hours on those two days. They were off Monday. Players said they would spend an additional three to four hours with the team on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, bringing the weekly total to 21-24 hours.

Just because Michigan went over the limit by only a few hours doesn’t mean it isn’t against the rules, but I would be surprised if many teams truly spent only 20 hours on football a week.  Paul Gattis of The Huntsville Times feels the same way.

I’ve always found that somewhat of an unwritten joke in college athletics. To think players spend no more than four hours per day in athletic-related activities is to stretch the realistic bounds of the imagination.

Just 20 hours a week on football? What do you think? I’m pretty skeptical of that myself. And that doesn’t even begin to wade into the offseason workouts debate — you know, those voluntary workouts that are “required”.

Just because everyone does it doesn’t make it legal, but the fact of the matter is most schools probably go over the limit.  That is why I’m more concerned about the fact that players were willing to share this with the Free Press.  You don’t see that happening all over the country, and that worries me more than the actual allegations.

Speaking of which, here is the other main allegation:

Players said members of Rodriguez’s quality-control staff often watched seven-on-seven off-season scrimmages. The noncontact drills, in which an offense runs plays against a defense, are supposed to be voluntary and player-run. They are held at U-M’s football facilities. NCAA rules allow only training staff — not quality-control staffers — to attend as a safety precaution. Quality-control staffers provide administrative and other support for the coaches but are not allowed to interact directly with players during games, practices or workouts.

This doesn’t seem as serious as over-working the players, and Michigan sort of responded to it in its official response from associate athletic director for compliance Judy Van Horn.

“During the season, the NCAA limits ‘countable’ practice activities to 20 hours per week. There are activities that don’t count, such as rehab and getting taped. We educate our coaching staffs and student-athletes (in all sports) to keep everyone informed of the rules. Also, compliance and administrative staff conduct in-person spot checks of practice during the academic year and summer. We have not had any reason to self-report any violations in this area with any of our sports.”

So where did all of these allegations come from?  I’ll let the Free Press explain.

For this report, the Free Press interviewed 10 current or former players and the parents of four others. In separate interviews, five players gave almost identical accounts of how the program is run, and a sixth player confirmed most of the descriptions. Other players, as well as parents of additional players, discussed the conditions in general. Several players declined to be interviewed at length but did not dispute the allegations when asked specifically about them.

This all seems very vague, but it does look like Michigan was over the time limits.  By how much is tough to judge, but that will be important if and when an actual investigation takes place by Michigan and/or the NCAA.  I think it’s safe to say there will be an investigation, as this story isn’t going away anytime soon.  It has been the top story on since it broke and has already made its way around the media.  To put it bluntly, it’s a big story.  Anytime you have the mention of NCAA violations it will be a big story, but when Michigan football is involved, it is taken to another level.

With that in mind, what effect will these allegations have on Michigan?

For Rich Rodriguez, rather than getting to talk about the season opener and how excited he is for the first game, he is going to be inundated with questions about these allegations.  He has already released a statement flat out denying any violations, but he is going to have to continue to answer questions until this story subsides.  The best way to make the story subside is by opening the season with a win against Western Michigan.  Winning does sort of cure these types of situations, and beating WMU would hopefully take the attention off the allegations and back on football.  On the other side, a loss will cause shit to hit the fan more than it already has.  Rodriguez needed to have a good season before these allegations, but now he is really on the clock.  It won’t take much for his support to fall apart in certain circles now that NCAA violations are being alleged, so Michigan better start winning sooner rather than later.

As for the team, it’s tough to tell how they will be affected.  The fact that current players shared information for this story, as mentioned earlier, concerns me greatly.  It tells me not everyone is on the same page, and most certainly not everyone is “All in for Michigan.”  That could divide the team and hurt its chemistry if players are suspicious of each other over who leaked out what.  On the other hand, for players who do buy into the program and are “All in for Michigan,” this could be a way to rally around their coach and take on an “us against the world” mentality.  Of course, the best case scenario is probably that the team stays focused on Western and doesn’t worry about this story, but considering a few current players helped create it, that will probably be tough to do.

As far as the NCAA’s response to this goes, I’d imagine they will conduct an investigation of some sort.  As Brian pointed out on mgoblog, a similar list of allegations led to very little punishment for Southeast Missouri State, so there is some precedent established.  Of course, Michigan isn’t Southeast Missouri State, so that could work for or against U-M.  It does worry me that these current and former players have no problem sharing these allegations with the media, so that could make it easier for the NCAA to investigate the claims.  Even so, punishment likely wouldn’t be anything more than a loss of scholarships, a loss of practice days, and probation at the very worst.  If Michigan does its due diligence and shows that these claims aren’t accurate, it could very well mean nothing happens.  That is obviously the best-case scenario, as committing any violation that causes the NCAA to do something would be embarrassing, to say the least.

I tend to think that little to nothing will happen from the NCAA based on the fact that such a big gray area exists in the whole mandatory/voluntary thing.  Also, although it seems like Michigan players spent an awful lot of time at the practice facility on Sundays after games, a gray area exists there as well in regards to what players were actually doing.  I do think Michigan went over the time limits, but it could defend itself based on technicalities of what was and wasn’t countable and what was and wasn’t mandatory.

Regardless of what the NCAA does, the damage has already been done as far as negative publicity goes.  This story spread like wild fire and became national news almost immediately.  It is one of the top sports stories out there and will probably be a hot topic for a while with the season starting this week.  Much like the Ann Arbor News’ academics investigation a couple years ago, it is unneeded negative attention on Michigan.  The bigger problem this time around is the timing of when the story was released (just a week before the season) and the fact that NCAA violations are at the forefront of it.  The AA News piece was more about Michigan making life easier for its athletes than NCAA violations, which is what the focus of the Free Press article seems to be.  Nothing may come of the allegations, but the damage has already been done perception-wise and in the PR world.  The only way to divert attention back to actual football is by playing a game, so in that regard Saturday can’t get here soon enough.

I didn’t fit this into the main part of my post, but I wanted to bring attention to this quote from the Free Press’ article:

One player, echoing the words of others, said the workouts in the past two off-seasons at Michigan “affected people’s grades. People were falling asleep in class.”

If the Free Press was interested in presenting both sides of the story, this would have been a good time to mention that last year’s football team set a 20-year high in GPA.  Also, I know the player mentioned this, but many students are busy enough to the point where they are “falling asleep in class.”  Some students work when they’re not in class or studying, so football players aren’t the only ones with a full schedule.
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