When this last weekend began, it looked like the NCAA and Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh had agreed to a resolution of his issues. His problems were regarding his Level I violation of not being honest with investigators regarding his Level II violation, improperly meeting with players.
A four-game suspension had been agreed upon, and all that was left was approval from the NCAA’s three-person Committee on Infractions. But they denied the agreement, and now the matter will require a full hearing, most likely to happen next year.
For 2023, this actually helps Michigan on the field. The agreed upon four-game suspension would have meant that Harbaugh wouldn’t be on the sideline this season until Michigan’s September 30 game at Nebraska. But overall, the pain would have been minor. The Wolverines first four games are against East Carolina, UNLV, Bowling Green, and Rutgers. They should all be easy wins for Michigan.
And perhaps the lack of pain for Michigan and Harbaugh is why the NCAA committee rejected the agreement.
Michigan had no comment, because they aren’t allowed to comment on ongoing investigations. Harbaugh had no comment, because he also isn’t allowed to make a comment. But the NCAA did release a statement that would indicate that the desired punishment is going to be far greater than a slap on the wrist.
“The Michigan infractions case is related to impermissible on and off-campus recruiting during the COVID-19 dead period and impermissible coaching activities – not a cheeseburger,” said NCAA vice president Derrick Crawford.
The “cheeseburger” comment is a reference to Michigan fans claiming that all Harbaugh did was buy a couple of recruits cheeseburgers at the Brown Jug in Ann Arbor.
Crawford continued, “The Committee on Infractions may also reject a negotiated agreement if it determines that the agreement is not in the best interest of the Association or the penalties are not reasonable. If the involved parties cannot resolve the case through the negotiated resolution process, it may proceed to a hearing.”
Different Rules for the NCAA
Crawford brings up an interesting question by saying, “…if the involved parties cannot resolve the case through the negotiated resolution process.” It sure seemed like the parties did resolve the case, with Harbaugh and the NCAA agreeing to the four-game suspension. But if the NCAA negotiators don’t actually have the power to negotiate a deal, what’s their purpose? And why can NCAA officials make detailed statements that go beyond just stating the facts of the case, while everyone else is forced to remain silent?
That same point was made by Harbaugh’s attorney, Tom Mars, on social media. “Pursuant to the NCAA’s internal operating procedures, and under threat of penalties, Michigan, the involved coaches, and their lawyers are prohibited from uttering a word about this ongoing case. Yet the NCAA can issue a public statement putting its spin on the case?
Possible Penalties for Harbaugh
The NCAA rules state that if Harbaugh was being untruthful to investigators, then he should be suspended for a minimum of six games. And if he is found to have had improper contact with recruits, there might be additional games added to a potential suspension.
All of that makes it a serious case for Michigan and Harbaugh, and not about a cheeseburger, which no one associated with the university or football program has ever claimed.
But also, according to NCAA rules, the Committee on Infractions is supposed to be a neutral body that is only privy to the details of a case when the two sides present their cases during the full hearing. To listen to Crawford, there doesn’t seem to be much neutrality.
Because the hearing won’t likely happen until 2024, a suspension wouldn’t be served until then. With that cloud hanging over the Michigan program, recruiting for 2024 could be more difficult. Or worse for Michigan, it could lead Harbaugh back to the NFL, where he would be free of NCAA administrators and their rules.
BetUS.com has Michigan (+180) as the second betting favorite to win the Big Ten, trailing Ohio State (+160).