U-M ADMITS NOTHING…EVEN IF SCHOOL AVOIDS BLAME, ITS STANDARDS WERE JEOPARDIZED

It was less of a press conference than the first day of a college class, where the professor hands you a massive reading assignment. Reporters who gathered at the Michigan Union on Thursday were given these heavy 250-page reports, with black plastic bindings and beige covers. They were told, essentially, to go home and study.

“We haven’t read it all ourselves,” U-M president Lee Bollinger said.

“We just received it last night,” athletic director Tom Goss said.

This was at best a little naive, and at worst, disingenuous. After all, a seven-month investigation into the U-M basketball program is a top-shelf item for both men. And they did manage to lead their remarks — and their press release — with the conclusion that “no major NCAA violations were uncovered.”

Someone had to read the report to know that, right?

But this was not unexpected. The school paid for a neutral examination. And while declaring itself relatively healthy, it also discovered what I’ve been saying all along: U-M is not the police. Neither is the NCAA.

Which means this: Nobody has to talk to them.

So you had a major investigation into an alleged money-giver, Ed Martin — in which Martin refused to be interviewed.

You had a major investigation into what some former players might have taken while they were students — guys like Chris Webber — but those players refused to be interviewed.

You had a major investigation into unidentified sources of news reports — but those sources were never interviewed.

So what exactly do you have here?

You have an expensive, 250-page exercise that had to be done, and that may or may not accomplish what Michigan hopes it does: Dissuade the NCAA from a full-blown investigation and potentially crippling sanctions.

And, as always, the only question that matters still remains: Did anybody do anything wrong?

A no-brainer

The answer to that is yes. Ed Martin did something wrong. Without a doubt, he gave things to players he should not have given; without a doubt, he tried to purchase plane tickets for a player’s family; without a doubt, he tried to pay for apartments and hotel rooms in an effort to ingratiate himself to big-time ballplayers, so maybe they would like him more, remember him when they went pro, pay him back one day with status, maybe money.

That’s wrong. It’s not NCAA wrong. It’s not U-M wrong. It’s plain old common-sense wrong. To try to buy your way into the hearts of athletes — especially those who might suffer from such advances — is dangerous and pathetic. You don’t need a 250-page report to tell you that.

So the question is: How close was Martin to the Michigan program? Seven months ago, U-M determined he was a booster (technical term: “a representative of athletic department interests”) but in this latest report, they say that is
“debatable.”

Well, obviously, the more distance U-M puts between itself and Martin, the safer it will be.

But as I asked Goss on Thursday — and as I say right here — if Martin really did the things he is accused of, does his not being a booster suddenly make it OK?

“Absolutely not,” Goss said.

Right. Folks, let’s not lose track of what this whole thing should be about. It is not about attacking a university. It is not about attacking the press. It is not about “beating” the NCAA.

It’s about how you want to run a college sports program. Bollinger said it nicely Thursday: “The standard for Michigan is not to take pleasure in avoiding NCAA sanctions…. Our standards are far higher than that.”

Good. Then let everyone know where you’re placing the bar.

Where’s Coach Fish?

You can’t have coaches allowing sycophants to get next to the players — especially sycophants with money. Doesn’t matter if the coach witnesses any wrongdoing or not. He has to guard his kids like a lioness guards her cubs. If it costs him recruits, so be it.

And if anything suspicious happens, he can’t delay in reporting the wrongdoing. I know NCAA rules are ridiculous. I, personally, would never coach under them. But if you do choose to coach under them — and you take the money for doing so — then you undeniably choose to abide by them, letter by letter.

Steve Fisher was admonished for not doing these things. He has suffered plenty. I have known him for years, and despite accusations to the contrary, I believe he did nothing wrong intentionally. At worst, he permitted himself benign ignorance, or he trusted too much, believing his players when they said, “Coach, we’re not breaking any rules.”

Fisher was not there Thursday. That looked bad. He was on vacation, and
“people are entitled to their vacations,” Goss said. That is true. It is also true that if a top recruit needed to see Fisher fast, he’d likely get on a plane and be there. Isn’t a seven-month investigation at his own school at least that important?

Or maybe Fisher knows more than anyone that this report changes little. That the NCAA has been unofficially poking around, and may continue to do so. It’s not like Fisher to celebrate anything before it’s over.

In the meantime, give Michigan credit for doing what it had to do, even if the key people did not cooperate. And try to remember that, while it looks like an adversarial relationship, both the media and the university should be after the same thing: A clean program that makes fans proud — and a desire to clean up anything that is less than that.

“Our challenge was to find the truth and take action on the truth,” Bollinger said as he glanced at the report. “We have what we have.”

Yep. Two hundred and fifty pages, and just as many questions as answers.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.

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