MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University’s football program is under NCAA scrutiny and it probably has Rich Rodriguez to blame about it.
The school confirmed Tuesday that NCAA investigators had been on scene interviewing members of the administration and football staff about possible violations.
“The NCAA has met with individuals involved with the West Virginia University football program to identify any potential rules violations,” the unsigned statement said.
“The University has fully cooperated with the NCAA during this process.
“West Virginia University and its Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is committed to operating its athletic program in conformance with the legislation and policy of the NCAA and the Big East conference.
“No additional comments will be made regarding the matter at this time.”
A source says the inquiries, which have not yet risen to the point where they can be called an investigation, are linked to the situation with Rodriguez in Michigan, where the former WVU football coach’s program has been charged with committing five violations of NCAA rules and regulations.
The inquiry here was reportedly an effort to establish whether the Rodriguez regime in Michigan committed its violations as a one-time thing or if he was committing the same violations while coaching at WVU, thereby establishing a pattern of illegal behavior.
The source, however, noted that the inquiry is not necessarily limited to just the time Rodriguez was here, and anything illegal that that they can develop either during the Rodriguez time here or after can mushroom into a full-fledged investigation and potential penalties.
The investigation in Michigan is centered upon the amount of time players spent in football-related activities and on how quality-control personnel were used to oversee workouts.
The Michigan program was charged with five violations:
1. Breaking the rule that limits the number of coaches that may work with student-athletes, saying five quality-control officers – staff members not technically coaches – engaged in illegal coaching activities.
2. The NCAA alleged Michigan violated regulations prohibiting staff members from monitoring football players in voluntary, off-season workouts and conditioning.
3. The investigation also called out Rodriguez on acting in a manner that “failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the football program” and for failing to sufficiently monitor the activities of his program with regard to the other allegations.
4. The athletic department is similarly charged with not properly overseeing the activities of the football program with regard to the allegations.
5. Alex Herron, a graduate assistant football coach, is accused of providing NCAA investigators with misleading, and at times, false information about his role in the situation.
Michigan did not deny the allegations but stood behind Rodriguez as its coach.
“Rich Rodriguez is our football coach,” said incoming athletic director David Brandon at the press conference addressing the NCAA allegations.
It would go a long way in the Michigan investigation if it could find that Rodriguez had, while at WVU, bent the rules or broke them in these areas.
That, of course, would put WVU at risk, but if it is shown that it was done against the school’s wishes or that WVU exercised the type of necessary institutional control but had a rogue coach, it could avoid them from getting anything beyond a slap on the wrist, even if that did happen here.
At present, it isn’t believed the matter involves recruiting, but certainly the NCAA may be sniffing some smoke, considering that Rodriguez began recruiting a higher profile player than the Mountaineers were able to land under Don Nehlen.
Certainly, seeing how Rodriguez is accused of pushing the rules beyond their limit in Michigan reminds one of an incident that now is mostly forgotten, an employee in the football department being caught taking notes at a Marshall scrimmage, having driven to Huntington in the car of Rodriguez’s wife, Rita, before being caught spying by security.
Add to that the accusations that surfaced after Rodriguez left town that he had shredded documents, perhaps doing WVU a favor if they were evidence of his conducting extra practice or having graduate assistants doing things that were in violation of NCAA rules.
With the inquiry extending here now, it brings back into focus Rodriguez’s controversial departure that was tied up in law suits and investigations, with the university having to go to court to get him to pay what he owed for breaking his contract … payments that are still coming in.
The divorce was a messy and contentious parting played out as something of a football soap opera on the Internet and on national TV.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.