Bielema: NCAA will catch up to Harbaugh, prohibit trips

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh runs the practice open to the public in Bradenton on March 4.

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was only having some fun.

Two weeks after Bielema wrote on Twitter he might drop by Michigan’s open spring practice at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. --“After early meetings & lift tomorrow with our players. Thinking about heading to watching an open practice tomorrow at IMG with the staff.” – he explained what that was all about.

Bielema discussed a number of topics Wednesday on the Sports Illustrated podcast, and was asked about the tweet that referenced Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s decision to take the Wolverines to Florida for their first four practices of the spring. Harbaugh has taken considerable heat from the SEC and ACC commissioners about the trip.

“Everybody was getting so twisted about it, I was just trying to make a little light of it,” Bielema told SI. “I had no intentions of going to IMG. It’s a great place, but I don’t need to go. I’ve gone and recruited players there over the last several years.

“I was just doing it to kind of rile everybody a little bit. I guess it happened.”

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio got the joke and responded to Bielema’s tweet asking, “Want to do lunch?” Tennessee coach Butch Jones also jumped in and asked about lunch, drawing a response on Twitter from Harbaugh that essentially told Jones to mind his own business.

Bielema in the interview praised Harbaugh and said he has great respect for his career and coaching path. He also thinks the NCAA will prohibit future spring trips for football.

“It usually takes the NCAA about a year or a year and a half to catch up with certain things,” Bielema said. “First, text messaging was unlimited, then they limited it. (The spring trip) is one of those things I’m sure it’s going to have a short window, but kudos to them for being able to take advantage of what happened.”

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The issue Bielema does have is players not getting a chance to spend their free time with family.

“Here’s the thing that really jumps out: It’s not just a week, it’s spring break,” he said. “I just sat down with 108 players and about 75 percent of my guys are going home. Those kids get very little chance to get home and see mom and dad and be around everybody. If you could actually ask players what they want to do, I think they probably like that week to go home. At least for me, I believe in that. Mom and dad, and opportunities to get home are very few for our guys. I think that’s the part that got lost in the shuffle.”

Bielema was asked if the reaction to Harbaugh and this spring trip was overboard.

Bret Bielema

“Once coaches realized high school coaches and possible student-athletes at an open practice could come and watch, there’s an advantage there,” Bielema said. “You got a chance to see Michigan practice.”

He said he believes there was probably some mixed emotions among the players and their families regarding the spring break.

“I’d be very shocked if there’s not some,” Bielema said. “To have a football team go off-campus on spring break and not allow the opportunity for those kids to get home, my guess is there will be a student group that will pop up and change that in a hurry.”

Harbaugh during an appearance Wednesday on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike Show” called the negative reaction to the trip from the SEC and ACC commissioners “fake outrage.” He reiterated what he said in Florida, that other programs should do this. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer last weekend told a reporter he is considering something similar.

“I really think it’s a great idea,” Harbaugh said. “I’d recommend other coaches do it.”