Michigan coach denies wrongdoing

Updated: September 1, 2009, 9:55 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said Monday that his football program has abided by NCAA rules, despite allegations from anonymous players and former players who say the team has practiced far beyond the time allowed.

"We know the rules," Rodriguez said, "and we follow the rules."

At a news conference in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez became emotional and had to gather himself several times with glassy eyes as he denied any wrongdoing.

"I guess I'm here to tell you that whatever you've heard or want to believe, the truth is that this coaching staff cares very deeply about the young men in our program," he said.

The school on Sunday launched an investigation into allegations that the football program regularly violates NCAA rules limiting how much time players can spend on training and practice.

The Big Ten confirms that assistant commissioner for compliance Chad Hawley met with Michigan associate athletic director for compliance Judy Van Horn on Sunday in Ann Arbor. Hawley was on his way back to Chicago from a separate meeting and, because of the new allegations, decided to stop in Ann Arbor and meet with Van Horn in person.

"Our office does not conduct investigations in situations such as this," the Big Ten said in a statement. "As that task is undertaken by the institution and -- depending the circumstances -- the NCAA. To the extent we get involved, it is purely in an advisory capacity."

Hawley was back at the Big Ten offices on Monday.

The announcement came after a Detroit Free Press article in which players from the 2008 and 2009 teams said the amount of time they spend on football during the season and in the offseason greatly exceeds NCAA limits. The players spoke to the newspaper on condition of anonymity because they feared repercussions from coaches.

Former Michigan wide receiver Toney Clemons told ESPN's Joe Schad on Sunday night that all of the allegations reported are accurate.

Rodriguez suggested the complaints were an attempt to "tear up" the effort to rebuild a program that stumbled to a 3-9 record last season, including a dismal 2-6 in the Big Ten. It was Michigan's first losing season since 1967 and its first without a bowl in 34 years.

"Nobody on my staff would ever tell a player to miss a class ... never have, never will," Rodriguez said.

Michigan athletic director Bill Martin announced the school investigation, saying the allegations were taken seriously.

"We believe we have been compliant with NCAA rules, but nonetheless we have launched a full investigation," Martin said in a statement released by the school Sunday night.

Martin's statement also indicated the school had reached out to both the Big Ten and the NCAA about the allegations, adding the university would have more to say after its inquiry was done.

Van Horn has also denied that the football program violated NCAA rules.

Those regulations allow players to spend eight hours a week on mandatory workouts during the offseason. Players told the Free Press that they have spent two to three times that amount on required workouts.

The players said the amount of time they spent on football activities during the season exceeded the weekly limit of 20 hours and often exceeded the daily limit of four hours. They also said quality-control staff often watched seven-on-seven offseason scrimmages that are supposed to be voluntary and that only training staff are allowed to attend.

Rodriguez said what has bothered him the most is the perception that he and his staff do not care about their players.

"That is disheartening," he said.

Detroit Lions rookie Carson Butler, who played at Michigan, said he didn't think players had to do a lot more work for Rodriguez last year when compared with previous seasons under Lloyd Carr.

"It was just a different structure," Butler said.

Butler said it didn't seem as if the players were forced to spend excessive time training and practicing.

"I don't know all of the exact rules, but I don't remember anything that seemed like it was too much," Butler said. "If the weight room was open, you went. If there was a run, you went. It's just what you do to be a better football player."

Rodriguez, who is guiding college football's winningest program after a successful stint as West Virginia's head coach, opens the season Saturday at home against Western Michigan. He said he is not worried about the allegations becoming a distraction.

"Nothing is going to change their focus," Rodriguez said.

Linebacker Obi Ezeh said the report will only make the team's bond stronger.

"We were really tight coming out of training camp," Ezeh said. "I think things like this kind of help us to grow stronger."

Tuesday, the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail reported that West Virginia University's compliance office reviewed its records after the Michigan allegations were made public and found no similar issues during Rodriguez's seven years as the Mountaineers' coach.

"Based upon our looking back over the weekend, we don't feel we have any concerns," said Michael Fragale, WVU's assistant AD for communications, according to the report. "We have checked it out and there has been nothing flagged and nothing out of the ordinary. ... There were no student-athlete complaints during the time [Rodriguez] was here."

Joe Schad is ESPN's college football reporter. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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