- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It’s beginning to look like the University of Michigan and coach Rich Rodriguez are schlepping through a football marriage made in hell. Anybody know a good divorce lawyer?

Listen closely and you’ll probably hear Rodriguez asking himself why he ever left the quieter pigskin precinct of Morgantown, W.Va. (“Oh, yeah, it must have been because of that six-year, $15 million contract.”)

You also might be able to hear Michigan fans asking, “Why in the name of Bo Schembechler did we ever hire this guy?”

And you’ll surely hear a cackling sound from the east. That’s being emitted by the Ohio State faithful, which regards any disastrous news out of Ann Arbor as a gift from the football gods.

In his first year at Michigan, Rodriguez treated Wolverine Nation to the worst record in school history (3-9) and its first season without a bowl invitation since 1974. Even worse, he lost to those hated Buckeyes 42-7.

Rodriguez, an accomplished spinmeister, has been insisting since November that a total turnabout was in the works for 2009. That sunny outlook vanished over the weekend when the Detroit Free Press reported current and former players and parents as saying the team was far exceeding NCAA limits on practice time and other activities. The sources described spending two to three times more than the eight hours allowed each week for offseason workouts and said the team also exceeded daily and weekly practice limits.

The university announced Sunday it would conduct an in-house probe, standard procedure for this sort of situation. And during a nationally televised news conference Monday, Rodriguez ducked and dodged masterfully - or tried to.

This: “We know the rules, and we follow the rules.”

This: “I guess I’m here to tell you that whatever you’ve heard or want to believe, the trust is that this coaching staff cares very deeply about the young men in our program.”

He called such foul canards “disheartening.” And, of course, he suggested the charges were an attempt by anonymous antagonists to “tear up” his program.

“Nobody on my staff would ever tell a player to miss a class… never have, never will,” Rodriguez insisted. Unless, that is, such a class interfered with the primary goal of winning football games and filling Michigan Stadium (aka “The Big House”) with more than 106,000 disciples clad in maize and blue.

He also said he is not worried about the allegations becoming a distraction, which was patently pointless since they already have become one.

“Nothing is going to change their focus,” Rodriguez said of his players, who open the season Saturday at home against Western Michigan. Probably he had his fingers crossed when he said this.

In the long run, Rodriguez is no better or worse than any other coach who knows he or she better win or else. But the hypocrisy that so often infects big-time college sports is enough to make you wonder whether it’s all worthwhile.

Does anybody this side of Frank Merriwell still think college jocks in the revenue sports are in school mainly to get an education? Or that most coaches really “care very deeply” about their muscular “students”? Such idealists probably pay homage as well to the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.

Over the decades, I’ve met countless athletes who supposedly would do or die for whatever educational institution hired them (and hired is the right word). Many of these young people were genuinely interested in learning, getting a degree and making lives for themselves once any dream of professional fame and fortune faded.

Many others gave the impression they might be overmatched in high school classrooms, much less in the bountiful bosom of upper academia.

Not everybody is equipped to be a good student and a good athlete. But you’d like to think the two were not mutually exclusive.

Let’s not blame Rich Rodriguez for the dreadful duplicity that permeates college sports, because it existed long before he arrived and almost certainly will exist long after he departs.

Besides, he has enough problems already.

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