Jim Harbaugh on transfers: ‘It’s usually better to stick it out’

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh chats with some Michigan students studying abroad in France on Saturday.

Paris – Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about how the NCAA transfer rule could be tweaked, but he understands there is always a temptation for players to transfer for a number of reasons.

Debate on the issue picked up in recent weeks as Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson, who transferred from under-NCAA-probation Ole Miss in December, was immersed in a lengthy process to receive immediately eligibility to play this fall. In a joint statement from the NCAA, Ole Miss and Michigan on Friday, Patterson’s immediate eligibility was confirmed. Patterson’s eligibility was reported by The Detroit News on Thursday.

Most coaches are not in favor of granting immediate eligibility unless there are extenuating circumstances, like the school from which you want to transfer is under probation or your coach left. Otherwise, they’d rather stick with the rule requiring a player to sit for a season.

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“Most college students or football players, you go through at least one time where you say, ‘I’m leaving, I’m quitting, I’m going to go somewhere else, think the grass is greener on the other side of the street,’” Harbaugh said.

“Maybe things got a little tough, maybe things got a little hard. It’s usually better to stick it out, it’s usually better to stay at the place you are and see something through. I don’t think we want to send the message in college football if it’s not working out, or if it’s getting tough or hard, go somewhere else.”

Harbaugh admitted to being frustrated enough while a player at Michigan to consider transferring.

“Yeah, I did,” he said. “As a matter of fact there was one time where I thought, ‘I don’t think it’s going to work, I don't think they like me.’ Told my dad, told him what I was going to do and he said, ‘Well, you can come home, but you're walking. I’m not coming to pick you up.’ Pretty long walk to Kalamazoo, so I decided to stay.”

Patterson was asked about his take now on how transfers should be handled, particularly when the school is on probation.

“I feel like if the football program situation changes drastically, kind of like mine did with the bowl ban and two different coaching staffs, I think that’s obviously not the situation I wanted to be in originally,” Patterson said. “I think players should get an opportunity to leave that situation because that wasn’t what they thought they were going to get themselves into.”

Harbaugh said that while he doesn’t have a concrete theory on how the issue should be handled going forward, he things there could be a way to make a situation like Patterson’s more equitable for all parties.

“There’s gotta be something,” Harbaugh said. “Maybe the school pays back the other school. Say a school like Michigan gets a player from Eastern Michigan or Central Michigan or transfers, maybe you have to pay the scholarship back or maybe it counts as an extra scholarship. Just so it doesn't become free agency in college football. That's the thing I would worry about.”