SEC Squirms Under Harbaugh Onslaught

Oh, lookie here, the SEC wants what’s best for the kids!

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey whined to the NCAA about Jim Harbaugh’s plan to take his merry band of Michigan Wolverines to Florida for a week of spring practice. Those players should have a proper spring break! cried Sankey and the SEC. It would be so patently unfair for the Michigan players to have a week in the sun and warmth of Tampa instead of freezing their toes off up in Ann Arbor.

But this reaction surprised no one. For the SEC’s unofficial motto has always been “rules for thee, but not for me.”

Jim Harbaugh seems to be unaware of that motto, or he’s very aware but just didn’t give a flying fig about it. Last year, he ruffled SEC feathers by holding satellite camps throughout the South and also having a star-studded on-campus camp that featured head coaches from other schools.

Voila!, the SEC responded by submitting to the NCAA a proposal in January that would abolish satellite camps and also prohibit coaches from working as guest coaches at another school’s camp, as Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald did last summer at Harbaugh’s summer camp in Ann Arbor.

Make no mistake, Harbaugh is a lightning rod, and his every move is designed to upset the status quo. After a successful first year back in college ball as he led Michigan to a 10-3 record with a rout of SEC East champ Florida in the Citrus Bowl, he’s going to push the envelope some more. And if the SEC is upset about it, all the better.

Harbaugh understands that the playing field in college football isn’t level. And in order to restore Michigan – the winningest program in the sport but has not won a national title since 1997 – to the status of a playoff contender, he must correct the imbalance.

One of the key advantages the SEC (and southern) schools has is the weather. It’s the primary reason why a plurality of the best high school recruits now reside in the South and tend to stay in the South for college. For a midwest power such as Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State to compete, it must corral a fair share of the southern talent.

Urban Meyer has done that at Ohio State, and has the 2014 national championship to show for it. Harbaugh has followed suit in his first full recruiting class in 2016, getting nine of his class of 28 from SEC country, including six from Florida. In fact, his class is a truly national one, with six recruits from New Jersey and three from California, and all points in between.

Harbaugh is stamping the Michigan brand nationally, and the spring practice in Florida plan is part of that campaign. He explained after the “Signing of the Star” showcase (something that also didn’t go over well in SEC country) that the Wolverines’ week at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., is not all about football but also fun and games of other kinds.

“We’re going to have swim meets, we’re going to have putt-putt golf, we’re going to have football meetings, we’re going to have practice,” Harbaugh said. “I think it gives us a chance to win on a lot of different levels. …

“We’ll be outside, we’ll be in Florida, we’ll go to the beach. It will be a good time for our team to connect and be together. That’s a lot of levels right there to win on, so I’m very much looking forward to it.”

But not the SEC honchos. It’s an encroachment on their territory and they don’t like it very much. Sankey and Co. might not be able to stop Harbaugh this year, but they hope their proposal will get their NCAA lackeys to go along and shut this thing down after just one episode.

The SEC is very protective of its territory, so much so that it rarely ventures outside of it – when it comes to playing football. Last season, only one SEC team went outside of the conference’s footprint for a game – LSU played at ACC bottom-feeder Syracuse. And every SEC-contracted bowl game is held inside the conference’s 11-state area.

The SEC won’t go up to Ann Arbor, Columbus or Madison for a game in November (or any other time, for that matter), and it doesn’t want anybody to set foot in its domain. OK, fine. But to use the rationale of protecting the student-athletes’ free time to scuttle the Michigan spring camp is a cosmic joke.

Maybe the SEC should look at its own schools to see what its own “student-athletes” are doing? There has been at least seven major infractions incurred by SEC schools in the last six years. The latest involves Ole Miss and also Tennessee, which allegedly has been sweeping sexual misconduct by its football players under the rug.

But even with all these rules violations, no SEC football program has received a postseason ban since Mississippi State in 2004. Maybe this is why the SEC is so comfortable to go to Indianapolis to insist on new rules for others while the NCAA continues to look the other way when it comes to the SEC.

“Rules for thee, but not for me.”

Postscript: Harbaugh has responded in kind with yet another classic subtweet:

 

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