NCAA tells U-M it believes major violations might have occurred
It tells U-M it believes major violations might have occurred
Gregg Krupa / The Detroit News
The NCAA on Monday notified the University of Michigan it has reasonable cause to believe major violations might have occurred in the operation of its storied football program.
But what remained unclear is whether the NCAA has uncovered new or more evidence of major violations or whether it's merely pursuing the original allegations, from some current and former Michigan players, that NCAA rules regarding practice time were violated. NCAA investigators have been working since early September in cooperation with independent investigators appointed by the university to determine the veracity of the allegations.
In issuing an official "Notice of Inquiry" to the university President Mary Sue Coleman on Monday, the NCAA made clear, formally, its investigators will determine if major violations occurred.
Among other implications, coach Rich Rodriguez's contract calls for his termination if he's found to be responsible for major violations of NCAA rules.
Several observers who have participated in NCAA investigations said the notice of inquiry does not necessarily mean matters have suddenly taken a more serious turn in Ann Arbor.
"They were already serious circumstances," said Michael Buckner, a lawyer who assists universities in conducting investigations of alleged violations of NCAA rules. "What has been going on up to now is that NCAA investigators have been sitting in with the university's investigators on interviews and reviewing any evidence that has come to light. We always advise universities to do that, to get the NCAA involved, right away. And Michigan was smart to do that.
"Now, the NCAA is saying they have enough to say it merits official inquiry on behalf of the NCAA."
'We remain committed'
While the NCAA notified Coleman its enforcement staff intends to have its investigation completed by December 31 -- a time frame that struck some experts as short -- subsequent notifications from the athletics association could move back that date, perhaps considerably.
When she announced the appointment of an outside counsel to investigate the allegations of violations of NCAA rules regulating practice time, appointing a veteran, former NCAA investigator to do the job, Coleman also announced she had called in NCAA investigators to participate fully in the process. University officials sought to portray the development Monday as a continuation of the ongoing probe.
The news release issued by the university said the NCAA notice indicates "it will continue its investigation of allegations ... "
Outgoing athletic director Bill Martin said, "We continue to cooperate with the NCAA on this matter, which is why we reached out to both the Big Ten and the NCAA as soon as we heard the allegations. We remain committed to following the letter and the intent of the NCAA rules."
Buckner and others said the action by the NCAA might simply comprise official notice of what the NCAA had intended to do all along -- investigate the school, based on the original allegations -- regardless of whether university officials called in NCAA investigators.
Once the NCAA either cooperates with a university or opens an investigation on its own, any allegations uncovered are investigated -- even well beyond the scope of the original information that gave rise to the probe. Now that the NCAA has formally informed Michigan of its intent to pursue the matter, the NCAA investigators also will pursue any other allegations that surface.
David Price, vice president of enforcement for the NCAA, who issued the notice of inquiry, also informed the university he's heading the investigation, along with Thomas Hosty, NCAA director of enforcement, and Jackie Thurnes, associate director of enforcement.
NCAA officials, as is association policy, would not comment on the specifics of the investigation. But a spokeswoman did say any notice of inquiry means that the NCAA has uncovered "reasonable cause to believe that major violations have occurred."
"The NCAA enforcement staff initiates an investigation only when it has reasonable cause to believe a university has violated rules and the NCAA has reasonably reliable information that a major violation may have occurred," said Stacey Osburn, associate director of public and media relations for the NCAA. "The enforcement staff will then begin a review to determine the credibility of that information, and whether a major violation has taken place."
Experts said that might well not be a major development.
"I think this is just a natural sequence of events that should occur when you have numerous former and current players making allegations that there have been rule violations, in this case, practices too long," said Rick Karcher, a sports law expert at the Florida Coastal School of Law.
"It's just a first step."
The next step would either be a determination by the NCAA that the accusations are baseless, or a formal "Notice of Allegations" detailing precisely what is supported by evidence.
At that point, the university still would have an opportunity to defend itself before the NCAA would seek to determine if the alleged activities occurred, and whether they constitute major violations.