I just watched Rich Rodriguez's statement regarding allegations that he was having mandatory practices for more hours than allowed by NCAA in the off season. Generally, he said a whole lot of nothing, but I'm not here to criticize that. It was mostly a speech about the great academic performance of Michigan football players this year. Okay, whatever. I don't really care.
Rodriguez claimed he would never ask a player to miss a class to do something athletically. That's a stretch. I'm not saying Rodriguez is a bad guy, I'm just saying that he's like any other college coach (especially in Division I).
In college, even as a Division III baseball team, we practiced well beyond the maximum supposedly allowed as "mandatory" in the offseason. Our coach implied they were "non-mandatory", but that was a crock of shit. If you didn't show up to optional practice, you weren't committed. That was that. The same exact thing occurred in high school. In college, we were also required to have ONE day off per week, no matter what. We ususally got that day. Outside of Division I Football and Basketball, I think this is absolutely how it should be. Players are mostly there for academics. But talking to some of my friends playing at other schools at the same level, I realized that we were probably one of the only teams doing it. My coach and my undergraduate institution were very academic-oriented. There were no revenues for St. Mary's College Baseball. We weren't even any good. But even there, if you decided you wanted to be a Biology or a Chemistry major and have lab classes in the afternoon, you were probably going to get cut. It was a major factor in my decision to stay away from becoming a pre-med student. In retrospect, that was the right decision...but I don't think it was for the right reasons.
This is a bit of a different situation than our coach at St. Mary's making less than $50,000 a year. I can't imagine the pressure you're under when you're making $4 million a year. There's some serious incentive problems there, and it seems like just another consequence of the NCAA sending mixed messages to college athletes. They want players to compete with professional leagues, but not get paid. The coaches ARE paid and they're paid to do one thing: WIN. While they do have a responsibility as mentors to such young kids in my opinion, there is more pressure on them to have a good football team than to create good young men. That's just how it is.
I doubt Rodriguez had "mandatory" workouts (he's not an idiot). I am 100% sure that there were plenty of hours of "optional" workouts that really weren't optional. Coaches would absolutely hold it against players if they didn't show up to those. Not only that, but players would likely fall behind by not participating in extra workouts. I gaurantee this happens at every school. There is going to be pressure (whether or not it should be there) to practice more and more. As a resident of Ann Arbor, and a student at Michgan, I can tell you that most of the football players here are here to play football...not go to class. Whether or not that's right is a different question. I have to say most because there are exceptions and I don't want to make too much of a generalization. But when I say most, I really mean most.
This whole situation has been blown out of proportion. Some guys complained they had to practice a lot. Likely Rodriguez is killing these guys at practice, given the fact that they were bad enough to lose to Toledo last year. Someone got a hold of that and stretched it. I really believe that's all that went on here. And I don't think Rodriguez should be singled out in any way. If we really want college athletes to play for 'free', then the investigation here needs to be in all of mainstream college sports, not a single coach. There are pressures like this all over NCAA, and Rodriguez is simply following suit. I'm not saying it's right (I think it's a huge problem), but I am saying this Michigan-specific situation is not as big a story as people think.