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Jim Harbaugh's camp schedule shakes up recruiting

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has wasted no time in punching the college football establishment in the nose in his quest to put the Wolverines back on the map.

In no place is this more evident than in the ambitious satellite camp tour Harbaugh has set up in June. It has ruffled the feathers of coaches and athletic administrators in the South, and launched a national debate.

Any coach will tell you among the first steps toward addressing a turnaround is recruiting. Thus, Harbaugh and his assistants will embark on a nine-day, nine-city tour starting June 4 in Indianapolis and ending June 12 in Detroit. The one-day camps across the country include stops in Florida, Texas, California and Alabama.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has called the satellite camps "ridiculous." Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says they're "combines," not camps.

Coaches from the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences are not allowed to work a camp outside the 50-mile radius of their schools, so pushback from Saban and Swinney is understandable.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer also said satellite camps should be outlawed, but that didn't stop him from scheduling one for himself and his staff June 17 at Florida Atlantic.

Harbaugh has his supporters, however, in the debate.

"I think it's a great thing, and I'm probably in the minority on that," said Chris Spielman, a former Ohio State and NFL linebacker, now an ESPN college football analyst. "Jim is interested in winning. He's interested in putting the national Michigan brand back out there because it's suffered the past few years.

"What better way to do that than take your brand on the road and give yourself the best opportunity to look at the best talent around the country?"

Penn State coach James Franklin, formerly a coach in the SEC, is largely credited with making satellite camps a part of the Big Ten dialogue after he and his staff attended two camps last season.

"I thought when Franklin did it last year, it was a genius," said Gerry DiNardo, a Big Ten Network analyst and former coach in the Big Ten and SEC. "It's a loophole that helps the Big Ten get outside their footprint and evaluate and recruit.

"Not to take advantage of it is crazy."

'A bad thing' for some

Working satellite camps is not a new thing. Mack Brown, the former Texas coach now with ESPN, said while he was with the Longhorns, the camps were stops for at least a decade for many of the smaller programs in the state.

"For me as the head coach at Texas, it was a bad thing," Brown said. "It let people come down to meet and greet players from Texas. I do think for some schools who don't have players around them, it's helpful. We never did it at the University of Texas because we didn't have to."

As a former president of the American Football Coaches Association, Brown said if satellite camps continue — he believes they will — the AFCA must make sure the rules are strict enough to protect any wiggle room in gray recruiting areas.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany recently offered a defense of Harbaugh and other conference coaches who will attend satellite camps this summer.

"I don't think (satellite camps) are objectionable," Delany said at the recent College Football Playoff annual meetings in Texas. "I think there are some things out there that are practices that are legal that are probably far more objectionable."

Delany suggested oversigning, grayshirting, "flipping" committed players and 7-on-7 camps, which tend to be SEC practices, are objectionable but permissible.

"Coaches coaching at camps doesn't strike me as a bad practice," Delany said.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has been less vocal in the satellite camp discussion.

"We are just recruiting," Dantonio said. "Everybody has gotta do their own thing. It's not like we don't go someplace and go to a camp off campus. We do some of those things as well. We just do our thing."

The NCAA's Division I Football Oversight Committee is expected discuss this issue at its upcoming meetings. Delany welcomes the discussion as long as every angle is covered.

"Recruiting is a difficult area to legislate," Delany said. "I would object to identifying any single practice in an isolated way and focusing on that. I would be open to an omnibus overall view of recruitment, whether it's for basketball or football, to make sure there's balance in access."

One of Saban's complaints is coaches are working extensively throughout the year and don't have time off. The satellite camps, obviously, force the coaches to stay on the road and work.

DiNardo said that's an empty complaint.

"The days of, 'We need our summers off,' I think those days are behind us because the financial aspect of this thing has changed," DiNardo said. "People who make present-day coach's money don't get time off. CEO's don't get a month off. This next generation has to understand, this is a profession you can become wealthy in. It's not about four weeks off. If that's a problem, go do something else."

Harbaugh added a new layer to the debate when he issued an invitation to two coaches from every school in the country to attend Michigan's mid-June camp.

The camp apparently has had substantial response from schools from various divisions, including the Ivy League.

"I love it," Spielman said. "I think his obligation is to Michigan and what's going to be best for Michigan. As everyone knows, he's an interesting guy, but he's not an idiot. He's a very bright guy, and he knows what he's doing."

Competing against Meyer

In a larger sense, Spielman believes Harbaugh's activity with the satellite camps is more a response to Meyer, who led Ohio State to a national championship last season, than Saban and the SEC.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer watches his team scrimmage during the annual Ohio State spring game last month at in Columbus.

"The thing I like about Jim, having competed against him in college, he understands what he's up against," Spielman said. "When you have Urban Meyer down the road, you think, 'What's Urban's biggest strength?' It's evaluating and getting talent from everywhere. He knows, 'I'm Jim Harbaugh, I've coached in the NFL, I've been successful everywhere, and I can compete in the living room with him (in recruiting). But how can I do better than Urban? This.'

"And what's Urban's response? Urban counters right away and is going to a satellite camp. ... It's entrepreneurship. How am I going to get my team better?"

Aside from what the schools can gain, clearly this presents an opportunity to high school athletes who might not be able to afford a trip to a camp like Michigan's.

"I go back to opportunities for the kids," Spielman said. "There might be a kid who might not fit an SEC team, he might be a Division I player, and he might be a better fit for Michigan. And maybe he would have otherwise slipped through the cracks."

DiNardo agrees the opportunities lost for both sides would be damaging.

"It's a no-brainer," DiNardo said. "How else I could meet a kid in Orlando by not breaking the rules? Not all kids can spend $1,000 in transportation on his own for an unofficial visit."

But in the end, the satellite camps are about one thing — fixing Michigan's program.

"Jim has a sense of urgency (at) Michigan, and in order to do that, you have to do you due diligence in recruiting," Spielman said. "I don't know Jim well, but I think he could care less what the SEC guys say and could care less what anyone says."



Michigan 'Summer Swarm Tour'

June 4: Bishop Chatard Football Camp, Indianapolis

June 5: Prattville Elite Football Camp, Prattville, Ala.

June 6: USF One Day Camp, Tampa, Fla.

June 7: Lauren's First & Goal Camp, Easton, Pa.

June 8: Aldine Elite College Football Camp, Houston

June 9: Dallas Showtyme Elite Football Camp, Grand Prairie, Texas

June 10 : Mission Viejo Football Camp, Mission Viejo, Calif.

June 11: DB Guru Football Camp, Fresno, Calif.

June 12: Sound Mind Sound Body Academy, Detroit