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Harbaugh’s spring break trip draws response from SEC

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Birmingham, Ala. — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh often has said with regard to recruiting that in his America, “you’re allowed to cross state borders.”

But rival conferences are plenty sick of Harbaugh crossing outside of Michigan's borders to take advantage of loopholes, whether it was last summer’s furor over his satellite camps, or now the Southeastern Conference’s objection to Harbaugh taking his team to Florida for a week of spring practice.

The Wolverines will hold four practices at IMG Academy — which happens to have prime high school recruiting targets — in Bradenton, Florida. The university’s spring break officially begins Feb. 27, but the team will fly there on Feb. 28.

According to a CBS Sports report Tuesday by Dennis Dodd, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has asked the NCAA to prohibit college football teams from holding spring practice during spring break.

“We’re going to work hard, and we’re going to have fun doing it,” Harbaugh said on signing day last Wednesday.

The NCAA does not have a rule that would prohibit Harbaugh’s spring objective. The CBS Sports report cites a “high-ranking source” who indicated any program that would like to do what Harbaugh is doing will not be allowed in the future, but that more than likely, nothing can stop Michigan’s plans this spring.

Sankey told CBS Sports the SEC has asked the NCAA Football Oversight Committee to address this issue “as soon as possible.” His emphasis is on time demands on the student-athletes.

“We’ve got one program taking what has been ‘free time’ away,” Sankey told CBS Sports. “Let’s draw a line and say, ‘That’s not appropriate.’ ”

Harbaugh said last week there are plenty of plans in place beyond the actual practices.

“We’re going to have swim meets, we’re going to have putt-putt golf, we’re going to have football meetings, we’re going to have practice,” Harbaugh said. “I think it gives us a chance to win on a lot of different levels.

“One is, everybody is going to get a spring break. There’s no youngster that can’t afford to fly somewhere who won’t be able to enjoy a spring break. What better way to be doing that than to be playing football? The other thing it’s going to allow us to do by practicing during our spring break, we’ll have both weeks of finals. Winter finals are going to be no football. They’re going to be discretionary weeks and our guys can concentrate and focus on the finals.

“We’ll be outside, we’ll be in Florida, we’ll go to the beach. It will be a good time for our team to connect and be together. That’s a lot of levels right there to win on, so I’m very much looking forward to it.”

IMG Academy, which had its inaugural football season in 2013, features a number of sought after recruiting targets, including top prospect, linebacker Dylan Moses. While Harbaugh and his staff would not be allowed in-person contact with any potential Michigan recruits, Moses and his teammates could watch Michigan’s practice.

This is not the first time Harbaugh, in his second season as Michigan coach, has drawn the ire of rival conferences. He stirred up the SEC and Atlantic Coast Conference coaches last summer when he launched his multistate “Swarm Tour” of satellite high school camps. The SEC and ACC only permit their coaches to work camps within in a 50-miles radius.

The ACC and SEC in January submitted to the NCAA a proposal that would abolish satellite camps. The ACC proposal would forbid universities to use secondary sites for camps, instead allowing only camps held on campus or facilities used regularly by the program. The SEC proposal would prohibit coaches from working as guest coaches at another school’s camp, as Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald did last summer at Harbaugh’s summer camp.

Late last spring, Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters at the SEC meetings questioned why a staff could participate in satellite camps.

“We have a lot of crazy rules,” Saban said at the time. “A head coach is not allowed to go out during an evaluation period in the spring, but you can go have a satellite camp anywhere in the country, to bring your staff in and bring players to it? Does that make any sense to anybody?

“The only time that you should be able to have camp is on your campus. And if the player is interested enough to come to a camp on your campus, then that should be the way it is. All right? Now it's not that way. It's that way in our league.”

Harbaugh, last May during a meeting with Detroit-area high school coaches, told a small group of reporters he did not know why this issue of satellite camps has stirred so much emotion. He explained his rationale for why being able to travel to camps is a smart thing for the game.

“I don’t know why it would be controversial — it’s not a new concept,” Harbaugh said during the event at the Horatio Williams Foundation center. “It’s what’s best for the high school players, it’s what’s best for football. To have coaches from all over the country come to football camps in Michigan and to be able to notice players to be able to encourage players, to be able to give them a dream of playing at the next level and an opportunity to do that, it’s good for the high school football players.

“To be introduced to football or be re-introduced to football and have an experience where they get coached on the fundamentals of blocking and tackling, also for the safety, it’s good for the game. It’s the way it was. It’s the way I remembered it when I went to football camps in high school. There were Ivy League coaches, there were Big Ten coaches, there were MAC coaches, there were Southeastern coaches, coaches from around the Midwest and the state. That was good. Someone was watching you, and you wanted to put your best foot forward and you wanted to learn and relationships were built out of that. Opportunities were realized because of that. It seems pretty selfish to not want that for the high school players and not want that for the high school players in your own state. It just seems right.”