- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Here we go again with yet another contrite college coach, bowed but not broken, fighting back tears, playing the martyr, left to whimper about how he is a caring and compassionate soul.

The template never changes with many of these would-be thespians.

They are the Father Flanagans of the NCAA coaching ranks. They are big names toiling in a big business that is conflicted.

They are saving wayward youngsters. They are building strong minds and bodies. They are instilling character. They are doing all the stuff that sounds good if you are groveling before a national audience.

This is the lot of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez after 10 players, past and present, spilled their guts to the Detroit Free Press, saying the team was routinely put through training and practices during the season and offseason that exceeded the NCAA time limits.

There is a good reason for the time limits. The game is not supposed to be the full-time obsession of the athletes, even if it is for all too many, the books be darned.

Rodriguez denies the charges, predictably enough, and he feigns to be hurt because of the implication that he does not care about his players.

He gave an emotion-filled news conference Monday, choking up at several points. He appeared on “ESPN First Take” on Tuesday to reiterate that he remains torn up inside by these allegations.

“To suggest we don’t take care of our guys is ridiculous,” he said. “It bothers me.”

And it should bother him, what with the Michigan athletic director pledging to conduct an investigation to learn whether Rodriguez and his coaching staff are functional illiterates around a clock.

Rodriguez is coming off a 3-9 record in his first season at Michigan, which is really the only aspect of his tenure that matters. He either will flourish or tank at Michigan based on what his team does on the football field.

Would someone in his precarious position feel inclined to nibble around the edges of the NCAA’s weekly time restraints, if not obliterate them?

You might as well ask: Would he also feel compelled to yell at his players on occasion?

Coaches inevitably object to the rules and regulations emanating from an NCAA bureaucrat. The bureaucrat just does not know the score. Besides, the bureaucrat has a job for life, while the coach endures only as long as his record allows.

Here is the deal: College coaches find a way around the time limits on a routine basis. That is because they know their competitors do the same. That is because they know they will not be judged by their team’s GPA or graduation rates but by their won-lost record.

The rest of the stuff - the coach as the maker of men - is so much pretense. It is so much about what the NCAA and universities peddle college football to be but isn’t in actuality.

Rodriguez is apt to hide behind the cloak of “voluntary practices” while knowing that “voluntary” means mandatory if a player wants to retain his spot on the depth chart.

And Rodriguez can point out, as he did on “First Take,” that you are not about to keep all 120 players on a football team happy, no matter who you are, even if you have a halo hanging over your head.

Rodriguez insists his players are in a good mental place, hardly overworked or bothered by the practice-limit fallout. If anything, Rodriguez has been running an upscale spa, complete with manicures and pedicures, in preparation of the season.

“My judgment on this is really, really good,” Rodriguez said. “The players have smiles on their faces. They are having fun with each other. The chemistry on our team is tremendous.”

Rodriguez need not worry too much, so long as he resolves his quarterback issue and purges the 3-9 record from the collective memory of the fan base.

Otherwise, he will have a whole lot more problems than being unable to tell time.

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