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NCAA bans Jim Harbaugh’s camp tours

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh coaches at a satellite camp last June in Prattville, Ala.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh established the satellite camp craze last summer and certainly stoked controversy because of his ambitious nine-stop “Swarm Tour” last summer.

But the NCAA no longer will allow satellite camps, it announced Friday.

Harbaugh and his staff took Michigan football to high school players who might not otherwise be able to afford a visit to the Ann Arbor campus. Harbaugh also used the opportunities at these camps around the country to identify prospective recruits.

That drew the ire of coaches in the SEC and ACC, because those conferences do not allow their coaches to work camps outside a 50-mile radius of their schools.

The NCAA said Friday that a proposal by the ACC to forbid universities to use secondary sites for camps had been approved, and that satellite camps would end immediately. According to a sourced report by ESPN, the Big Ten, AAC, C-USA and MAC voted to keep the camps, while the ACC, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, MWC and Sun Belt voted for the proposal to ban them.

“The (Division I) Council approved a proposal applicable to the Football Bowl Subdivision that would require those schools to conduct camps and clinics at their school’s facilities or at facilities regularly used for practice or competition,” according to the NCAA press release.

“Additionally, FBS coaches and noncoaching staff members with responsibilities specific to football may be employed only at their schools camps or clinics. This rule change is effective immediately.”

Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips is the chair of the D-I council and the Big Ten representative. Phillips told USA Today said the council did not want to wait to decide the fate of satellite camps.

“The will of the group stated there should be a ban on these camps, so that’s the will of the group,” Phillips told USA Today. “We had a spirited debate, but it was respectful and insightful and then you go to a vote.”

Harbaugh: Satellite-camp vote could lead to ‘dumb rule’

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said the decision must be accepted.

“It is what it is,” Delany told USA Today. You have to accept it. You go with the system that’s in place, and so I support that, respect that and move on. (Coaches will) pick up recruitment; satellite camps are off the table, but presumably everything else is on it.”

Harbaugh last week during an appearance on WTKA-AM 1050 said he thought it would be business as usual for Michigan and its summer camp tour.

“I don’t see that would change,” Harbaugh said. “But there’s a lot of rules that have been made that aren’t the best rules.

“So I can’t say you’d put that past the rule makers to make another dumb rule.”

Harbaugh is traveling and could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

Washington State coach Mike Leach had a strong response to the vote.

“It appears that the selfish interests of a few schools and conferences prevailed over the best interests of future potential student-athletes,” Leach told the Seattle Times. “The mission of the universities and athletic programs should be to provide future student-athletes with exposure to opportunities, not to limit them.

“It appears to me that some universities and conferences are willing to sacrifice the interests of potential student-athletes for no better reasons than to selfishly monopolize their recruiting bases. I will be fascinated to hear any legitimate reasoning behind this ruling.”

Jim Harbaugh coaches then-high school QB Brandon Peters, now with the Wolverines, during a camp stop last summer in Indianapolis.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey last summer made clear how he felt about the camps.

“As we remember camps, they were instructional and development opportunities,” Sankey said. “Now what we’re talking about is recruiting tours. So let’s just be clear about what we’re really talking about here.”

The SEC had said if satellite camps were permitted, the conference would begin allowing conference members to participate in camps beginning May 29. ESPN’s Andrea Adelson reported Thursday the ACC would also participate in satellite camps if the proposal was voted down.

Harbaugh and his staff had several dates already scheduled for June, including two stops in Alabama -- a return to Prattville, Ala., on June 7, a day after he and his staff work a camp in Madison, Ala. Michigan also has camps scheduled for Mississippi, Atlanta and Dallas.

Prattville coach Chad Anderson had told The Detroit News he expected 250-400 kids at the camp Michigan was expected to work.

“It makes (Michigan) more accessible to the kids who can’t afford to go all the way there from Alabama,” Anderson said last month, explaining the benefits of the camps. “They’re coming to your neighborhood. There’s an excitement having big-name coaches working with you. We also had several local college coaches come along (last summer), and this gave them exposure to Coach Harbaugh and gave them an opportunity to work with Coach Harbaugh.”

Anderson issued a statement Friday: “We are disappointed in having to cancel the camp due to the fact it hurts the athletes’ exposure and experience of working with college coaches, but we respect the NCAA and the magnitude and volume of the issues they deal with on a daily basis.”

Several college players took to Twitter to say they wouldn’t have their football scholarships if not for satellite camps.

Former Michigan fullback Joe Kerridge also posted his sentiments on Twitter: “No realization of the fact that satellite camps allow underprivileged players the opportunity to be recruited by schools outside their state.”

Alabama’s Nick Saban, coach of the national championship team, arguably is the biggest voice in the SEC and certainly carries a lot of weight in college football. He recently said he does not believe there is a need for satellite camps.

“I get it,” Saban said on the “Dan Patrick Show.” “But I’m not sure anybody really knows the value of doing some of these things, whether it’s traveling to off-campus camps all over the place. If everybody has one, then how do the kids really decide where they go and where they don’t go? How much of a benefit really is it? I basically like focusing on the way we do it and I’m not too worried about what somebody else is trying to do.”

Paul Finebaum, who hosts a simulcast radio show on the SEC Network, has been vocal in his praise of Harbaugh and his innovative nature. But on his show Friday, Finebaum said he doubted the dissolution of satellite camps would cost scholarships and said they were really about one thing.

“They were about self-promotion,” Finebaum said of the camps. “It was about Jim Harbaugh. It wasn’t about anything else.”

Paul Finebaum said Jim Harbaugh's camps "were about self-promotion. It was about Jim Harbaugh. It wasn’t about anything else.”

Uncertain how the vote would go, several SEC coaches were preparing to work satellite camps this summer.

Last May, LSU coach Les Miles told reporters he planned on working camps if the rule was relaxed.

“Should that not be a violation, I promise you, we’ll do it all summer next year,” Miles said in May 2015. “Next year, we’ll be in all different locations.”

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin told ESPN on Monday the SEC coaches had been proactive.

“I know there are a number of SEC programs that are set and ready to go if it happens,” Sumlin said. “We will have satellite camps outside of the state. We’ve got some tentative dates and locations set so that if things go a certain way, we can be prepared to go. We’re not the only SEC team that’s doing that, too.”

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema told ESPN he had plans for satellite camps with at least two Big Ten schools and also has something in the works with the Dallas Cowboys.

“I’ve been in discussion with teams in Florida and Texas, as well as the Cowboys,” Bielema told ESPN. “If this thing goes through, we’re going to do an exclusive camp right there with the Cowboys unique to us that no one else is the SEC will be able to do. That’s going to be a huge advantage.”

After spring practice earlier this week, Georgia coach Kirby Smart said he and his staff would be at camps this summer.

“We’ll be ready to go,” he said in a story reported by

Harbaugh and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had plans to camp about an hour from the Georgia campus, in the Bulldogs’ backyard this summer.

“I think it’s very smart on their part. They’ve got a right to do it,” Smart had told reporters. “Like I said, we’ve got a plan ready. You’ll see soon enough.”

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel last week said he backed the satellite camp concept and was behind Harbaugh’s efforts.

“I’m supportive of satellite camps and having the opportunity for coaches to go around the country and have the chance to help young people be better, in this case in football, and grow their skill and skill development,” Manuel said.