Thursday January 28th, 2016

Successful recruiting is the lifeblood of any college football program hoping to sustain success. 

How exactly does Alabama beat up on other schools year after year? Well, the Crimson Tide typically have the best players. And how do schools like Bama recruit these great players? As it turns out, they’re willing to do just about anything.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is in the process of rebuilding Michigan into a national powerhouse, but some of his recruiting tactics have become the subject of controversy. Harbaugh is being accused of pulling scholarship offers from prospects who long ago committed to the Wolverines. He has also been at the center of other recruiting controversies since he arrived at Michigan. 

Is there any legitimacy to criticisms of Harbaugh, or is he just doing what's necessary to re–build the Wolverines? Let's examine Harbaugh's history of recruiting controversies.

So, what happened?

Harbaugh came under fire earlier this month when left tackle prospect Erik Swenson told the Chicago Tribune that Harbaugh had pulled his scholarship offer without an explanation. Swenson had been committed to the Wolverines since 2013, before Harbaugh was hired as head coach. He was the first player from the class of 2016 to commit to Michigan, and had been helping the school recruit other players. 

Swenson told The Chicago Tribune he felt Michigan had taken advantage of him. 

“I just felt used.”

Swenson said he received a call from Michigan offensive line coach Tim Drevno, who told Swenson to reopen his recruitment. Swenson says Drevno later told him there were no spots left to honor the left tackle’s scholarship offer, and that Harbaugh never spoke to him on the phone about the issue. 

Rashad Weaver, a defensive end prospect, also decommitted from Michigan after Harbaugh allegedly told him there was only a 50-50 chance the school would have a scholarship for him. Weaver had been committed to Michigan for seven months, but ultimately was not guaranteed a scholarship. In October, running back commit Matt Falcon was told his football scholarship would not be honored after he underwent knee surgery. Falcon could have still enrolled at Michigan under scholarship, but for academics only.

In total, eight players have decommitted from Michigan’s 2016 class. Though the reasons vary—not everyone had their scholarship pulled—eight decommitments is a fairly high number. 

Has Harbaugh done this before?

Yes, kind of. When Harbaugh was head coach at Stanford, he recruited eventual Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter. The quarterback was an verbal commit to the Cardinal before injuring his throwing shoulder in high school. Soon after Colter got hurt, Stanford began asking for his MRIs before stopping calls to Colter altogether, according to the Tribune.

In 2011, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald criticized coaches who pull offers due to injury. 

 "We're going to honor our commitments. The coaches who punt on guys when they get hurt, it's pathetic,” Fitzgerald said, according to The Chicago Tribune. “It's these kids' futures."

Is Harbaugh alone?

Not at all. The SEC has been notorious for its recruiting practices. Alabama coach Nick Saban was among a cadre of coaches oversigning players, then pulling scholarship offers or roster spots from lesser players when more heralded prospects officially committed. The conference eventually tightened up its practices. Harbaugh’s chief rival, Ohio State's Urban Meyer, also stirred controversy when he began flipping commitments within the conference, long a no-no in the Big Ten. 

STAPLES: The issue with recruiting and how we can fix it

What does Harbaugh have to say about all this?

NCAA rules prohibit coaches from commenting on unsigned recruits. So far, we’ve only heard the recruit’s version of events, because Harbaugh and Michigan are prevented from giving their side of the story. 

Did he send out a cryptic subtweet?

Of course he did!

All of this seems unfair

Welcome to recruiting! Harbaugh is in a bit of a tricky situation here. As Cardale Jones would say, Harbaugh wasn’t hired to play school. He’s paid to win games. Swenson committed to Michigan when Brady Hoke was still coaching the Wolverines. Ultimately, just like any other coach, it’s Harbaugh’s job to make sure his team is filled with the best players possible.

The chances are if you root for any major college football team, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly overlooked some questionable recruiting practices. Modern recruiting doesn't always have the best interests of prospects in mind, and many argue the system is desperately in need of an overhaul—but that's another story entirely

Hold on, does Harbaugh annoy coaches in other ways? What’s this about satellites?

Harbaugh has also come under fire for coaching at satellite football camps, though this isn't a new recruiting tactic. Coaches set up camps at different schools for young football players wishing to hone their skills. These camps help coaches build relationships with recruits. Harbaugh coaches at 11 camps in seven states by partnering with other schools, angering both the ACC and SEC because of perceived unfair recruiting advantages. The SEC and ACC do not allow guest coaching, while the rest of the Power Five conferences do. Every team is allowed to host camps in state, on campus or within 50 miles of their school.

Does Harbaugh seem to care about the criticism?

Not really. For example, Harbaugh recently scheduled Michigan practices during part of the school’s spring break at IMG Academy in Florida, a little more than two hours south of Gainesville. This has obviously drawn the ire of the Gators, who don't want Harbaugh creeping up on recruits in any way in their backyard. The SEC has complained again, this time saying Harbaugh should not be allowed to hold practice during spring break, especially considering the NCAA is dealing with time-management issues for its athletes. (Which is just a good cover for, “stay off our turf!”)

No current NCAA rule can stop Harbaugh from holding the practices, which are scheduled to take place from Feb. 27 to March 6. 

Don’t tell me he sent another subtweet...

Of course he did. Harbaugh followed up later in February, calling the SEC “talented magicians” deceiving people from the issues at hand. The drama continued on Feb. 19, when NCAA president Mark Emmert questioned Harbaugh’s practices, saying “there’s a difference between not being prohibited and not being OK.” Harbuagh followed up later that day, calling concerns over the trip “comical.”

Okay, so who's coming out on top in all of this?

The SEC. Seriously. The conference filed a proposal to ban satellite camps, and the NCAA approved the proposal on April 7. The rule states coaches will only be able to conduct football camps and clinics at their own facilities. A similar ban on spring practices at outside facilities is expected to come in 2017. But don’t worry, by then, Harbaugh will certainly have something else to be fighting coaches over.

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