MORGANTOWN - The footprints left by Rich Rodriguez on West Virginia's football program are still clearly evident almost everywhere, from the "Hold the Rope'' slogans that remain hanging in the team's indoor practice facility to the players he recruited who still dot the roster.
Now there's another reminder - NCAA investigators.
West Virginia officials confirmed Tuesday that the NCAA has been on campus within the past two months looking into the school's football program. Although those officials refused to publicly state the reason, others confirmed that the focus of the inquiry was the school's practice habits under Rodriguez.
"It's not a big leap [to make] that assumption,'' said one source, who asked not to be identified because NCAA investigations are not conducted in public and those involved can be penalized for speaking about them. "They were here trying to find out what happened when [Rodriguez] was here.''
Rodriguez, who coached at West Virginia beginning in 2001, left in December of 2007 to become the coach at Michigan. Late last August, just before Rodriguez's second season in Ann Arbor, the Detroit Free Press published the results of a lengthy investigation in which the newspaper concluded that under Rodriguez Michigan players were routinely forced to exceed NCAA maximums on the amount of practice hours.
As a result of that published account, the NCAA launched an investigation at Michigan, which is ongoing. As a part of that investigation, Rodriguez's practice routines at West Virginia are now being probed, according to WVU sources.
Officially, though, the school is only confirming that the NCAA has been on campus and investigating the football program.
"The NCAA has met with individuals involved with the West Virginia University football program to identify any potential rules violations. The University has fully cooperated with the NCAA during this process,'' said a statement that came from the office of assistant athletic director for communications Mike Fragale. "West Virginia University and its Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is committed to operating its athletic program in conformance with the legislation and policy of the NCAA and the Big East conference. No additional comments will be made regarding the matter at this time.''
The NCAA also refused to provide any specifics of the investigation. In an e-mail response to an inquiry by the Gazette, Stacey Osburn, the NCAA's associate director for public and media relations, said "it is NCAA policy to not comment on current, pending or potential investigations. ... I'm happy to answer any general process questions you may have, but cannot discuss any specific case.''
As for the investigation into Rodriguez at Michigan, though, several facts are known. In February, Michigan announced that the NCAA had cited the school for five potential major rules violations, including practice above and beyond NCAA limits.
Michigan has until May 24 to respond to the NCAA charges. School officials are scheduled to meet with the NCAA's committee on infractions in August. That committee only hears cases involving potential major rules violations.