UM football spent nearly $350,000 on spring break trip

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Amara Darboh runs after a catch during Michigan's open practice at IMG Academy on March 4.

Michigan football’s spring practice trip to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., which drew considerable criticism from SEC and ACC commissioners and coaches, and also praise for being “creative,” cost the athletic department nearly $350,000.

The team departed Feb. 28, held the first four practices at IMG, including the final one on March 4, which was open to the public, and returned March 5.

Michigan spent $348,553 for the trip, with the biggest chunk – $146,912 – for renting the IMG training facility. The team did not charter a plane and flew commercial, while non-coaching staff members drove to Florida, and the total for airfare was $107,148, according to a numbers released Friday by the university in response to an open-records request by The Detroit News.

The team used several busses to travel to the beach and other venues and that cost $51,395. Another $39,519 was spent on meals / per diem, and under the “other” category, $3,580 was spent.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh came up with the idea to take the team to Florida, often mentioning that every other team, like softball and baseball, takes trips to warmer climates before the season for training.

But he quickly received criticism for the move. John Swofford, ACC commissioner, told Sirius XM College Sports at the time that while he appreciated Harbaugh thinking outside the box, the week away during spring break must be reconsidered because of student-athlete time-demand issues.

“It’s kind of like, ‘We’re going to take you on vacation but you’ve got to practice while we’re on vacation.’ … It’s a huge intrusion on a college student’s life and taking his ability to have a break out of his hands,” Swofford told the radio show. “I guess it depends on how you look at it.”

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has brought this matter to the attention of the NCAA Football Oversight Committee.

Harbaugh doesn’t believe trips like these for football should be eliminated.

“The arguments don’t hold water, and this is a really good thing,” Harbaugh said after the final practice at IMG Academy. “It’s a great thing for everybody involved. I would recommend this to other football programs. I’d recommend it to us to do it again. There were no negatives. There were all positives.”

Undoubtedly the trip was a way for Michigan to establish some additional roots in Florida recruiting. Florida high school coaches, but not high school players, were invited to attend practices, and high school prospects could attend the final practice. IMG Academy is a hotbed for football talent.

Michigan tight end Jake Butt was vocal in support of the trip, which also included beach trips for the players and time for a number of non-football activities like golf and playing pick-up basketball.

“It’s like a free vacation with all your best friends,” Butt said during the IMG trip. “All of my best friends are on this team. We were just hanging out on the beach (one day) eating wings, eating tacos. I think more teams should do it, honestly. You get to knock out four practices when you don’t have to worry about classes and studying. It’s a great idea. I think it’s brilliant by Coach Harbaugh.”

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Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, during a Sirius interview in late March, said the trip gave Michigan a recruiting advantage.

“You got a chance to see Michigan practice,” Bielema said.

Bielema praised Harbaugh’s creativity, but also said he believes players should have a chance to do what they want during spring break. He believes the NCAA will rule out future football spring trips.

“It usually takes the NCAA about a year or a year and a half to catch up with certain things,” Bielema told the show in March. “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.”