Commentary: U-M players need to wake up

The University of Michigan football team began its season last Saturday beneath the bleak shadow of scandal. On Aug. 29, the Detroit Free Press published an article in which both former and current U-M players alleged coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff forced the student-athletes to practice too long and too hard.

The involved players, who were unnamed in the report, alleged the coaching staff was regularly in violation of NCAA rules governing that students spend no more than 20 hours per week on their sport. Now, not only does the program have to try to turn around a 3-9 season, but it also has to deal with a possible division in the locker room.

I am disgusted that anyone would feel a shred of sympathy for the U-M football players, even if they are being required to practice too much. Thousands of young men around the nation can only dream of playing collegiate level football.

And while there are a few who do at least make it to the collegiate level, most of them can still only dream of the opportunities that exist for those select few who play for such a storied program like U-M.

All of these young men who fell short of that maize-and-blue line would most likely practice gleefully for any amount of time asked just to have a chance to cross it.

What about the student-athletes at schools like Eastern Michigan? Would anyone care if NCAA rules were broken here? Maybe, but would coach Ron English be given a televised and nationally covered news conference to tearfully dispute the allegations as Rodriguez was? Doubtful.

Would players and students be questioned and featured by local and national news media outlets? Again, doubtful. Come to think of it, would the Free Press even have broken the story at all? Once again, doubtful.

And let’s not forget about all of the college students who work 40 hours a week waiting tables, folding clothes or shelving books at the campus bookstore just hoping to cover the most basic costs of living while their student-loan debt lies in wait for graduation.

Would they trade in that crappy pre-graduate job and thousands of dollars in debt at the price of 20 hours spent on weight training, running and football drills? I know I would.

If you happen to bleed maize and blue nonetheless, maybe it’s time you ask yourself what these sniveling, snitching players are really after. It seems to me that a U-M scholar would be able to go beyond simple accusations in order to really get something done.

If Rodriguez and his staff were truly breaking rules the players should have figured out what rules exactly were being broken, how to prove it and then taken their accusations and proof to the NCAA, not let the Free Press come to them first.

It has become glaringly obvious that as a college football crazed nation we have let these young men become larger than life, casting their shadow over all the others who just weren’t good enough to be next to them.

As if full-ride scholarships, housing and complimentary meal plans are not enough, they are showcased, idolized and nearly worshiped.

These few players who made the allegations did not do so in the interest of fair practice policies and justice for themselves and all of their peers, but instead because they have an axe to grind with a coach with whom they didn’t see eye to eye.

True, Michigan passed its first test Saturday with a 31-7 win over Western Michigan. But we’ll have to wait and see if Rodriguez truly has righted his ship, or whether a handful of pathetic players have managed to derail a once-proud program.

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