John Swofford, commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, concedes Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is thinking outside the box, but that doesn’t mean he agrees with the approach.
Swofford, appearing Thursday afternoon on Sirius XM College Sports, said Harbaugh’s plan to take his football team to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for a week of practice during spring break, will be addressed at the NCAA level because of time-demand issues. He echoed Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey’s recent remarks that Harbaugh’s plan is being negligent to student-athletes.
“It is creative,” Swofford told the show. “It’s kind of like we’re going to take you on vacation but you’ve got to practice while we’re on vacation … it’s a huge intrusion on a college student’s life and taking his ability to have a break out of his hands. I guess it depends on how you look at it.”
Sankey on Tuesday said the SEC has asked the NCAA to prevent football programs from taking a trip like Harbaugh has planned for Feb. 28-March 5 during the university’s spring break. Michigan will hold four practices in Florida, and Harbaugh has said they will have outings to the beach and putt-putt, among other non-football-related activities.
Harbaugh seemed to take a shot at Sankey on Wednesday on Twitter with the post: “Question of the day: Does anyone find whining to be attractive? Just curious.”
Sankey responded to the tweet in an AL.com story Wednesday.
“I’m not going to reduce what is an important conversation to some childhood use of Twitter,” Sankey said. “This is an important issue.”
Swofford would not be drawn into the Harbaugh-Sankey exchange, but he was asked if Harbaugh’s idea is a “brilliant” move or does it need to be addressed.
“It’s an issue we need to address,” he said. “It’s certainly out-of-the-box thinking and creative thinking but on the other hand, to me, and this is just one man’s opinion, it seems a bit in contrast to the overall thinking that we’re all trying to put into time demands for student-athletes and giving our athletes more time to have to themselves to be more a part of a college experience and be more a part of college life, and to require a practice during an offseason practice period, during an academic spring break seems to me to be at odds with the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do in terms of time demands on our athletes.”
Harbaugh has said part of the reason he wants to practice during spring break is to leave the players two weeks during finals, what he called “discretionary weeks” for the players to focus on their academics. He said it also offers a trip for those who can’t afford to take a spring break trip. And of course, the IMG Academy has a football team with sought-after recruits who can take in Michigan practices.
Swofford was asked if he believes a rule against such spring football trips will be in place this time next year.
“I would guess so,” he said. “I haven’t talked to a lot of people specifically about this particular idea because to be honest with you I’m not sure anybody has really specifically talked about that or thought a whole lot about it.
“But based on conversations with other commissioners and athletic directors and faculty representatives and so forth regarding the whole time-demand issue, I would guess that this will be addressed at the NCAA level through the appropriate processes. But we’ll see. I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before, but my guess is it will be addressed.”
Michigan tight end Jake Butt weighed in on the issue Wednesday night on Twitter, writing: “As a student-athlete, I like the idea of knocking out some of my spring practices when I don’t have to worry about class.”
This is not the first time Harbaugh, in his second season as Michigan’s coach, has drawn the ire of rival conferences. He stirred up the SEC and ACC coaches last summer when he launched his multi-state “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.