Harbaugh’s Delayed NCAA Suspension Doesn’t Mean What Michigan Fans Think
if you're someone unfortunate enough to have Michigan fans in your life, you've probably been unable to avoid Walmart Wolverines taking a victory lap this weekend after news that Jim Harbaugh's reported four-game suspension for NCAA infractions has been put on ice.
ESPN reported the ban was called off by The Powers That Be this weekend.
The negotiated resolution between Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and the NCAA over alleged recruiting violations was not approved by the NCAA Committee on Infractions, sources confirmed to ESPN on Saturday, which leaves the timing of Harbaugh's expected suspension uncertain.
Sources cautioned to ESPN that the next steps are uncertain, and Harbaugh's status to start the season or any potential suspension has yet to be determined. The case could go to a full hearing of the committee or Michigan could attempt to self-impose penalties.
To the myopic Michigan fan, who is of course incapable of thinking critically about anything in maize and blue, the news is a triumph for the Wolverines and Harbaugh. After all, they say, the entire charade was a gratuitous witch hunt stemming solely from the purchase of a cheeseburger for a recruit.
But, in the words of a college football caricature somehow less cartoonish than Harbaugh, "Not so fast, my friend!"
"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 Derrick Crawford, the NCAA vice president of hearing operations, in reference to a common over-simplification of the case in some media circles that distilled it to buying burgers. "It is not uncommon for the COI to seek clarification on key facts prior to accepting."
"The COI may also reject an NR [negotiated resolution] if it determines that the agreement is not in the best interests of the Association or the penalties are not reasonable. If the involved parties cannot resolve a case through the negotiated resolution process, it may proceed to a hearing, but the committee believes cooperation is the best avenue to quickly resolve issues."
Applying even the slightest critical thought and doing some rudimentary reading between the lines makes it clear that the disciplinarians at the NCAA have heard U-M media and fans (really, they're one and the same) misrepresenting the facts of Harbaugh's case loud and clear, and now they're pissed. They've nixed the four-game suspension not because they believe it goes too far but because it doesn't go far enough.
It seems likely now that this matter will be drawn out, requiring a full hearing, which means that it almost certainly will linger into 2024. That raises a few questions.
The originally agreed-upon four game suspension would have cost Harbaugh the vaunted opening third of Michigan's 2023 season: East Carolina, UNLV, Bowling Green, and Rutgers, all in Ann Arbor. U-M could go 4-0 in those games with Zeke the Wonderdog patrolling the Big House sidelines in khakis and transition lenses.
But protracting the NCAA matter probably means a resulting suspension will come down in 2024, and it will likely be greater than four games. A six-game ban for Harbaugh next year would be far more serious, let alone a penalty that would sideline him for the entire 2024 college football season. Take a look at Michigan's schedule then:
- Aug. 31: Vs. Fresno State
- Sept. 7: Vs. Texas
- Sept. 21: Vs. Arkansas State
- Sept. 28: At Illinois
- Oct. 5: Vs. Maryland
- Oct. 12: Vs. Michigan State
- Oct. 19: Vs. Minnesota
- Oct. 26: Vs. UCLA
- Nov. 2: Vs. Wisconsin
- Nov. 9: At Rutgers
- Nov. 16: At USC
- Nov. 23: At OSU
But what if Harbaugh wants to delay this whole NCAA matter for another reason? What if he wants to put it off for a year because he doesn't care about 2024?
Specifically, what if he doesn't care about anything beyond this season because he's not planning on being a college football coach after 2023?
Think about it. Michigan will likely beat Ohio State, win the Big Ten, and play in the College Football for the third straight season this year. Harbaugh's returning a ton of great players, many — if not most — of whom won't be at Michigan past this coming season.
This is Harbaugh's last best chance to win it all at Michigan. If he doesn't get it done in 2023, he never will, and he knows it. So he's treating it as such. Any NCAA penalties are better being put off until 2024, when he's back in the NFL.
Assuming the NFL wants him, that is.
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