Jim Harbaugh has been suspended by the University of Michigan for the first three games of the 2023 season as a pre-emptive “peace, let’s put this to bed, let’s move on” gesture to the NCAA infractions group. Harbaugh will be at every practice, just not the games. The infractions Harbaugh has been charged with by the NCAA are alleged impermissible on-and-off campus recruiting during a dead period, and impermissible coaching activities. The NCAA is also miffed at Harbaugh for what they feel was not being forthright in his responses and misleading them.
That, in a paragraph, is what this is all about. Here in a word is what I think …it’s a “CROCK!”
First of all, Harbaugh adamantly contends he didn’t intend to mislead anybody. Now, whether you believe that or not, I really don’t care. I personally take Jim at his word. But, if you don’t, like the NCAA apparently doesn’t, that must mean you and they can read minds. I have never seen the “Amazing Kreskin” on the NCAA payroll though. To prove what’s in somebody’s mind is a pretty tall order don’t you think? The legal department should weigh in on that one, but, I’m pretty sure a court would have a problem with an argument that starts with, “but what he really meant was…” Prove it,….they can’t!
With Michigan suspending Harbaugh as a self imposed penalty, it puts pressure on the NCAA to accept it or not. If they don’t, expect a court battle. I think Michigan would take them to court if the NCAA wanted to go for more. Publicly, the NCAA would look a bit overzealous and petty if they tried. In addition, it is a pretty safe bet they would lose in court, they always do. With all the under-the-table violations and pay-for-play that’s happening all over the country these days right under the NCAA’s nose, an unreasonable penalty for an offense that is considered minor by many, and an offense they can’t even articulate or prove would be folly.
Now, we should also take a look at the NCAA and their future. In my opinion, the NCAA won’t exist for Division 1 football or basketball by 2030. It may even be sooner, but let’s use 7 years to be kind. They’ve already lost control…look at NIL and the transfer portal. College players are being bought from one program to another. The transfer portal is free agency. It all has happened under the NCAA’s watch. This organization has mismanaged the business model of collegiate athletics for a long time, and now they are mismanaging themselves out of business. They have been toothless and powerless for some time now. To rattle their sword is almost comical since the sword is rubber. The NCAA as we knew it 20 years ago no longer exists, and it will never be back.
If we ever lose the educational component of collegiate athletics, then we will have a professional sports system underwritten by media rights dollars and operating under the banner of American Universities that acts as a developmental league for the NFL and the NBA. Some believe that’s already the case. And, since the NCAA isn’t very good at managing anything, sooner than later, the universities that are part of this developmental league will kick the NCAA to the curb. They will manage themselves, their media contracts, their rules, their playoff systems, and their members, by an elected body of their membership, and the NCAA will cease to exist. Oh, they may stay around in some form, but, not even a shadow of what they once were.
Back to Harbaugh’s case. He’s handling this whole thing better than his accuser. The NCAA has a procedural rule that states if a University or an involved coach utters a word about an ongoing investigation, they are open to penalties from the NCAA. At the Big Ten media days, Harbaugh was asked to comment about the investigation and the rumors surrounding it. Jim said he was unable to comment even though he would like to, but, under the rule he was prohibited by the NCAA. Meanwhile, an NCAA officer issued a public statement aimed at social media and slammed them. The social media narrative had the NCAA targeting Harbaugh for buying a recruit lunch when that was prohibited. This officials’ public statement claimed that Harbaugh’s case was about on-and-off campus recruiting and not a cheeseburger. Well, I guess it’s OK for the NCAA to talk about the case in public but not for the accused. Talk about hypocrisy! Talk about unfair! I shouldn’t be so surprised. The NCAA is their own worst enemy.
The bottom line on all of this is that it won’t have much impact in the short term. Michigan will win the first three games without Harbaugh on the sidelines. The fall out down the road will be the more important. Will this attempt by the NCAA at trying to flex it’s quickly eroding muscle move Jim Harbaugh into taking another more serious look at the NFL? Will Michigan become the Blue Blood program that pushes back against an NCAA overreach and deal a knock out blow to the organization? I really don’t know. But, I feel that this is a skirmish that will have implications for some time, at Michigan, at the NCAA, and in collegiate athletics.