Mike Ford, the athletic director at Bishop Chatard in Indianapolis, was sitting in his office recently when Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh just happened to phone.
“I’m not accustomed to getting calls from him on a regular basis,” Ford said, laughing.
Bishop Chatard is the second U.S. stop of Michigan’s massive summer satellite camp tour, which kicked off on Tuesday night in Illinois. Harbaugh and his staff will work more than 30 camps in 21 states and also Australia and America Samoa before the end of June.
Harbaugh had a proposal for Ford, who hosted a Michigan football camp last summer and was already scheduled to host one this summer. How about, he suggested, a more wide-ranging three-hour event beginning at 9 a.m. that will include Michigan lacrosse, volleyball and cheerleading coaches, as well, teaching young athletes in the various sports.
“Those coaches were sitting with them when he called,” Ford said. “I think he had literally just bounced the idea off them and just called me.”
This will not be typical for the other camps, and Ford is excited about what this will do for the school and for athletes from central Indiana.
“From doing this last year and being involved with him and the coaching staff, it was a very positive experience,” Ford said. “Growing this camp has created a buzz and excitement. Those (other) sports and coaches (at Bishop Chatard) were amazed that this had potential and are gung-ho.
“It will be a hectic and crazy day. Thankfully we have a nice facility. He had other sports and activities in mind, but I told him, ‘Coach, you maxed us out with those four.’ I want to make sure everyone has the best experience and this is a fantastic start. It’s hard not to be excited and exuberant because he is.”
The Bishop Chatard football camp is closing in on 200 participants, but Ford is the first to admit maybe only one or two likely are candidates to play Division I football. Still, he said, Harbaugh and his staff did not treat any of the players differently last summer.
“I didn’t notice them spend any more time with (potential scholarship players) over another,” Ford said. “They gave the same attention and experience to any kid in the camp. The kids recognized that and appreciated that type of thing. For me, that was a goodwill gesture. There are lot of Indiana schools that folks around here obviously know about, but I guarantee you they left thinking Michigan is a pretty cool place.”
So if there are only a few potential prospects at Bishop Chatard or any other camp Michigan will be working across the country, what exactly is the point? From the young athletes’ perspective, they get a chance to sample Michigan for the $40 camp fee, and at some of the other camps, a number of other college programs will be involved.
And Michigan? It’s about taking the program to the far-flung reaches of the country and the globe. Undoubtedly, it’s also about recruiting.
“It really depends on what you consider getting something out of it,” said Allen Trieu, Midwest football recruiting manager for Scout. “Fans want to look at the number of commitments at each spot, but it has to do with spreading the brand to those areas. You look at the satellite camp in Alabama, maybe you get one, two commitments, but already a lot of kids this year from Alabama are interested. It’s about more than just getting commitments.
“Like going to a place like American Samoa. Not an easy place to recruit, but you start laying some tracks there and it can be extremely beneficial. There’s a lot of talent there. They’re feeling is, let’s just blast it all out there when they can. They might not be able to do this in the future, so put as many Block Ms across the world, really, and see what shakes out.”
Steve Lorenz, who handles recruiting for Wolverine247, said the camps are about attracting younger players who maybe don’t know about Michigan and certainly never considered taking an unofficial visit.
“For the bigger picture, they’re going into these talent-rich areas and planting seeds in the minds of the younger elite players,” Lorenz said. “In Pearl, Mississippi or St. Thomas Aquinas (in Florida), there are always going to be good players in those areas, so for a 2018 or 2019 kid, they start thinking, “Michigan is a school I think I’m interested in.’
“These unofficial visits are expensive. That’s one of the things Michigan looks at, that this is a bridge. You and your family don’t have $2,000 to drive 15 hours and pay for hotel and food, so we can come to you and give you at least an idea what Michigan is like. There’s nothing wrong with doing that. This idea, these are recruiting trips. No coach is going to say it’s a recruiting trip, but it’s a recruiting trip that is also going to benefit the kids who aren’t going to be recruited by Michigan. The pros outnumber the cons.”
The debate regarding satellite camps, which hit a fever pitch in April when the NCAA Council initially voted to not allow the camps only to have that decision reversed by the NCAA Board of Governors nearly three weeks later, is expected to be revived.
There are pros and cons, but many of the coaches who said they didn’t like the idea will be working camps this summer. Stanford coach David Shaw, who said he has no problem with what any other program does, recently told Sirius College Sports the camps simply don’t work for the Cardinal program.
“I think everybody does what’s best for their program, and God bless them,” Shaw told Sirius. “Good for them. I have no problem with that all. People can say whatever they want to say, these are recruiting camps. These are extending the contact period, or making the summer into a contact period where you can go out of state and spend time with kids and their families. This is a recruiting deal. This is what it is, which right now there's a rule that allows it. Great, I have no problem with people that want to take advantage of it.
“For us to have the expense and spend the time to go to one place and have a camp with 150, 200 kids and have one football player at that camp that’s recruitable by us, that’s a hard sell for me to spread my coaches all the way around to go to each camp to look for one player. I have no problem with what other people do.
“For us, economically, the time expended is not worth it traveling around the nation to go to these one, two-day camps whereas I think we’ve done a good job the way we’ve done it up to this point.”
Lorenz believes Michigan needs to go this route to attract young players from different parts of the country who probably don’t have much knowledge of when the Wolverines were a consistent upper-tier program.
“It’s planting seeds,” Lorenz said. “A lot of these kids they’re recruiting, they don’t remember Chad Henne and Mike Hart. They’re used to see Rich Rodriguez’s teams and used to seeing Michigan struggle. They’re not used to seeing Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
“Harbaugh is keeping Michigan in the news and trying to showcase Michigan in any way he can. It’s a genius recruiting tool. He’s never going to say it’s a recruiting tool, because no coach would say that, but it will pay mad dividends for any prospect that goes to one of these camps because of all the schools that will be there.”
Michigan’s 2016 satellite camps
Tuesday: North Central College, Naperville, Ill.
Wednesday: Bishop Chatard High, Indianapolis
Wednesday: Springfield (Ohio) High.
Wednesday: American Samoa
Thursday: Cedar Grove High (held at Maynard Jackson High), Atlanta
Thursday: Elite Prospect Camp, Leesburg (Ga.) High.
Friday: Trinity Christian Academy, Jacksonville, Fla.
Friday: St. Thomas Aquinas, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Friday: Heatherbrae Reserve, Melbourne, Australia
Friday: Nova Southeastern University Elite Prep Sports, Ft. Lauderdale.
Saturday: Cheshire (Conn.) Academy
Saturday:– University of South Florida, Tampa.
Saturday: Coaching clinic, Norfolk, Va.
Sunday: Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.
Sunday: Lauren’s First and Goal, Lafayette College, Easton, Pa.
Monday: St. Francis Academy, Baltimore.
June 7: South Alabama, Mobile.
June 7: Hun School, Princeton, N.J.
June 8: Pearl High, Pearl, Miss.
June 8: Raw Talent U camp, Cleveland Heights, Ohio
June 8: Paramus (N.J.) Catholic
June 9: Warren (Ohio) Harding High
June 9: Fairfield (Ohio) High.
June 9-10: Sound Mind Sound Body, Detroit (Wayne State)
June 12: Baylor University, Waco, Texas
June 12: Empire Showcase, Norco, Calif.
June 13: North Shore Stadium, Houston
June 14: Greenhill High, Addison, Texas (near Dallas)
June 14: Oakland High, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
June 15: Pittsburg (Kansas) State.
June 15: Blue Springs South High, Kansas City, Mo.
June 17: Ridge View High, Columbia, S.C.
June 17-18: Pride camp, Orem, Utah.
June 17-22: Michigan hosts camps in Ann Arbor
June 22: Chaparral High, Las Vegas.
June 23: Antioch (Calif.) High
June 23: Inderkum High, Sacramento, Calif.
June 24: Oceanside High, San Diego
June 25: Hawkins High, Los Angeles
June 26: St. Louis School, Honolulu
June 28: American Samoa