ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said Monday that his football program has abided by NCAA rules, despite allegations from anonymous players and former players who say the team has practiced far beyond the time allowed.
"We know the rules," Rodriguez said, "and we follow the rules,"
At a news conference in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez became emotional and had to gather himself several times with glassy eyes as he denied any wrongdoing.
"I guess I'm here to tell you that whatever you've heard or want to believe, the truth is that this coaching staff cares very deeply about the young men in our program," he said.
The school on Sunday launched an investigation into allegations that the football program regularly violates NCAA rules limiting how much time players can spend on training and practice.
The announcement came after a Detroit Free Press article in which players from the 2008 and 2009 teams said the amount of time they spend on football during the season and in the offseason greatly exceeds NCAA limits. The players spoke to the newspaper on condition of anonymity because they feared repercussions from coaches.
Big Ten compliance officials arrived on campus Sunday to assist with the investigation, according to two people at the school. One person, who spends a lot of time with the team, said the school's compliance office often makes unannounced visits to make sure the program is following the rules. Both people spoke on the condition of anonymity because the school will not publicly discuss the case until the probe is completed.
"Our office does not conduct investigations in situations such as this," the Big Ten said in a statement. "As that task is undertaken by the institution and -- depending the circumstances -- the NCAA. To the extent we get involved, it is purely in an advisory capacity."
Rodriguez suggested the complaints were an attempt to "tear up" the effort to rebuild a program that stumbled to a 3-9 record last season, including a dismal 2-6 in the Big Ten. It was Michigan's first losing season since 1967 and its first without a bowl in 34 years.
"Nobody on my staff would ever tell a player to miss a class ... never have, never will," Rodriguez said.
Michigan athletic director Bill Martin announced the school investigation, saying the allegations were taken seriously.
"We believe we have been compliant with NCAA rules, but nonetheless we have launched a full investigation," Martin said in a statement released by the school Sunday night.
Martin's statement also indicated the school had reached out to both the Big Ten and the NCAA about the allegations, adding the university would have more to say after its inquiry was done.
Like Rodriguez, the university's compliance director, Judy Van Horn, has denied that the football program violated NCAA rules.
Those regulations allow players to spend eight hours a week on mandatory workouts during the offseason. Players told the Free Press that they have spent two to three times that amount on required workouts.
The players said the amount of time they spent on football activities during the season exceeded the weekly limit of 20 hours and often exceeded the daily limit of four hours. They also said quality-control staff often watched seven-on-seven offseason scrimmages that are supposed to be voluntary and that only training staff are allowed to attend.
Rodriguez said what has bothered him the most is the perception that he and his staff do not care about their players.
"That is disheartening," he said.
Rodriguez, who is guiding college football's winningest program after a successful stint as West Virginia's head coach, opens the season Saturday at home against Western Michigan. He said he is not worried about the allegations becoming a distraction.
"Nothing is going to change their focus," Rodriguez said.
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