Accepting his election to the College Football Hall of Fame at a news conference Tuesday in Manhattan, former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr stressed how he learned respect for the game under Wolverines great Bo Schembechler and an understanding of the importance of representing something bigger than yourself.
"You represent the University of Michigan," Carr said. "He instilled great integrity about the way he conducted that program."
Carr's words necessarily had an ironic tone because of the recent scandal at archrival Ohio State and because of NCAA violations committed at Michigan by Carr's successor, Rich Rodriguez, who was fired after last season. Rodriguez was hit for forcing his players to practice and train much longer than allowed by NCAA rules.
But a far more serious situation is brewing in Columbus, where Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel has been punished by the school with a five-game suspension and $250,000 fine for withholding information about players who accepted improper benefits and then lying about it to investigators. The NCAA has yet to determine if Ohio State will face more sanctions.
Carr was reluctant to comment on the specifics of Tressel's violations, but he said, "I think the great majority of coaches have respect for obeying the rules, but there are always people who, because of a lot of different reasons, are willing to do things. It's up to the NCAA [to police] whatever problems we have, and they need to do a better job."
Asked if the penalties imposed by OSU are an admission of wrongdoing, Carr said, "Yeah, from the standpoint they have taken those positions within the university and made some decisions as it relates to suspensions. I don't think there's any question that is the way they're trying to deal with the NCAA…I think the NCAA has made it clear in some of their recent rulings that is a major problem."
At the same time, Carr was critical of the NCAA for not going far enough to enforce the rules. He noted the governing body relies on "self-reporting," and not everyone reports their violations. He called for more money for investigators and said the NCAA should enforce the rules to make sure violaters don't prosper or eliminate the rules if they are unenforceable.
The effort to run a clean program, Carr said, begins with the type of players a school recruits. "Can every coach possibly know everything that goes on?" Carr asked. "Absolutely not. The answer is that you have to pay attention, you have to understand that part of your job is to educate your kids as to what those rules are and understand that, if they violate them, there's going to be repercussions that will impact their careers. In my judgment, that's the most important thing a coach can do."
Carr said he was "disappointed" about the violations committed by Rodriguez but steered clear of any meddling with his successor. As for what might happen to Ohio State, he admitted it's unlikely the Buckeyes ever would receive the death penalty for such serious violations because of the pressure not to damage one of college football's greatest economic engines.
Still, Carr made it clear he had far more respect for how Ohio State ran its football program under Tressel's predecessor, John Cooper. Discussing the temptation for coaches to cheat when the financial rewards for a successful program are so great, Carr said, "You have to make up your mind. We used to have Big Ten meetings about three times a year, and I remember John Cooper always said, 'You know, they may fire me, but they'll never fire me for cheating.' I think that's a pretty good way to look at it."