Ann Arbor – An unidentified donor is paying for the Michigan football team’s April trip to Rome, which coach Jim Harbaugh says will be followed by trips in subsequent years to South Africa, then Japan, Israel and either New Zealand or London.
The cost of the trip was not disclosed, and Harbaugh said the donor had not yet given him permission to be identified.
Harbaugh, speaking Wednesday after the Signing of the Stars recruiting event at the Crisler Center, said the idea of the Rome trip came to him as he flew from Detroit to Baltimore last June to participate in one of his satellite camps.
Harbaugh had broken new ground and took the Wolverines to IMG Academy in Florida for four spring practices last year over spring break – unheard of for a college football team. But it created such controversy, a rule has gone into effect that will prevent those sorts of trips after this year.
So what next?
Harbaugh, his staff and the players will be in Rome April 22-30 and will have three practices there. The rest of the time they will venture to operas and the Vatican and visit military and a refugee camp, among other activities.
Michigan spring practice begins March 24 and there will be an open practice April 15 at Michigan Stadium.
College basketball teams frequently have gone overseas, but because they face competition and play games, those trips are limited by the NCAA to one every four years. Michigan will have three practices in Rome and the trip is after the semester and exams have concluded.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh discusses the trip to Rome. Angelique Chengelis, Detroit News
“We’re going at the end of the term so it’s compliant with all rules or new rules that have been made,” Harbaugh said Wednesday. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity for all of us, the youngsters and adults alike to have an educational opportunity to connect with people from another country, to study abroad.
“Most all our players are going to have the opportunity to study abroad, do internships, do service. We’re going to Italy for a week. We’re going to practice, but from there all our players are going to be able to branch out all over the world. The world is our classroom. They’re going to be going Iceland, Belgium, Japan, Israel, South America, Puerto Rico – all over the world to do their classes. It’s so phenomenal. We can’t wait to get there.”
The NCAA has passed legislation, effective August, to prevent spring break trips like Michigan took last year. Will the NCAA try to stop this?
“I don’t know who would have a problem with that or how they could,” Harbaugh said. “This is bringing athletics and academics together. This is what being a student-athlete is supposed to be. It’s one of the reasons we’re so excited about it.”
The NCAA regulates the role boosters can play in paying for benefits for student-athletes. Because the donor was not identified, it is not clear if he/she would be considered a booster by the NCAA.
Calls by The Detroit News to the NCAA on Wednesday regarding the Rome trip were not immediately returned.
The early-enrollee freshmen recruits who were part of the Signing of the Stars program on Wednesday said they’re looking forward to the trip.
Michigan defensive end Donovan Jeter on going to Rome. Angelique Chengelis, Detroit News
“I’m a little scared. I’ve never been outside the country,” defensive end Donovan Jeter said, smiling. “It’s obviously a great opportunity. We’re going to go over there and watch operas, work with people less fortunate. We’ll have a few practices. I was happy.”
Former Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards, who was part of Signing of the Stars, likes the idea of this trip. He joked that not only would have his coach, Lloyd Carr, not taken the team out of the country, but he didn't want to take them out of Ann Arbor.
“It’s a different age,” Edwards said. “Coach Harbaugh is a big-, he’s a huge-picture type of guy. You see what he’s doing for recruiting, you see what he’s doing for marketing. He’s winning on all aspects. I love what he’s doing from all standpoints.
“Everything now with kids is bright lights, it’s action, it’s big, it’s Instagram, it’s Twitter. It’s things they can see. Things they can be happy about or show somebody or Tweet about or text about. So when you do things like taking kids to Rome, that’s something I’d be talking about on Twitter, that’s something I’d talk about on Instagram. Everything is about projecting a message like, ‘Hey, we do it bigger and better than everybody.’ That’s what he’s doing.”
Harbaugh said the idea just popped into his head on, to be exact, June 6.
“It just hit me right in the middle of the flight, and I started really getting excited about it,” Harbaugh said Wednesday. (Associate head coach) Biff Poggi picked me up – we were going to do a satellite camp in Baltimore – and I said, ‘Biff, what do you think of this idea?’ I was really excited that he loved it.
“Biff Poggi has done legwork, organized, planned since that day in June. He’s talked to the Department of Defense, he’s had meetings in Rome, he’s talked to the Italian ambassador, he’s talked to people at the Vatican. He originally put the hotel down on his own credit card before it was approved by the University of Michigan.”
Harbaugh told Poggi he would put the hotel on his credit card, as well.
“And when it came down to do it ….” Harbaugh said, laughing, as he mimicked someone fake-searching for his wallet. “The two of us said if it doesn’t get approved we’ll take our family and friends to Rome.”