Having a ball: Michigan players loving Florida spring break
BRADENTON, Florida (AP) For anybody concerned Michigan's football players are being deprived of an enjoyable spring break by being forced to practice in Florida this week, Wolverines tight end Jake Butt has a message: Everything is great.
''Not everybody on our team is going to take a spring break to get away,'' Butt said after Michigan finished a four-hour practice Tuesday, just after sunset at the IMG Academy.
''We're away. We're down here in Florida. Beautiful territory. Sun shining. Not too hot. Nice breeze. Eating great food with our brothers. I don't have anything negative to say about it.''
And for those suspicious of Michigan spending a week on a campus that is home to one of the best high school football teams in the country, maybe this will alleviate some of those fears: Two NCAA representatives are also in Bradenton this week, keeping tabs on the Wolverines.
''Michigan reached out to the NCAA national office for guidance in preparation for its spring practice,'' the NCAA said in statement given to the AP.
''As discussed with the school, NCAA staff is present this week at IMG Academy to monitor and serve as a resource for the school.''
Michigan's spring break spring practice - the latest outside-the-box idea from Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh - does not violate NCAA regulations.
However, it has drawn criticism from leaders of other conferences for not being in the spirit of the current discussion about time demands placed on college athletes.
At the previous NCAA convention, several proposals were laid out to give athletes more free time, including mandatory two weeks off after their seasons and at least one day off per week during the season.
Football teams typically do not hold spring practice during school spring break. While Michigan's arrangement allows players to be free from football during midterms and finals, it does mean spring break is part business, part pleasure. The players seem to be OK with that.
''When we're not practicing, like yesterday, we were at the beach, eating fish tacos,'' offensive lineman Mason Cole said.
It has been sunny and in the 70s so far in Bradenton and that's the forecast for the rest of the week.
Michigan players and coaches and IMG athletes and coaches do need to keep their distance while the Wolverines are on campus or be at risk of breaking NCAA rules.
There is plenty of room at IMG to help keep everyone compliant. The campus covers 500 acres and has a 5,000-seat football stadium, a baseball stadium, 16 soccer fields, a golf course and large nature preserve.
Michigan players are staying in a gated community of townhouses near the main entrance to the campus.
''It's a lot better than just a dorm room,'' Michigan running back De'Veon Smith said. ''The living conditions right now are nice.''
The coaches are staying in guest housing about a 5-minute golf cart ride away.
The permanent residents of the gated community include some families of students. IMG asked those students and families to try to avoid having other students as guests this week to cut down on the chances of IMG students and Michigan players mingling.
There is always security on campus and at the main entrance, but a little more was added this week.
The Wolverines eat one meal per day at the IMG golf club, in a dining room that overlooks the Sarasota Bay. Blue and maize cloth napkins are laid out to make Michigan feel at home.
IMG has also arranged to have food trucks on campus, set up right outside that gated community, every night for players who are looking for something to eat after dinner. The Wolverines never have to step foot in the student dining hall.
On Tuesday night, Michigan rented out a nearby Outback Steakhouse for a team dinner.
Michigan's headquarters on campus is the IMG field house, a short walk from where the players are housed. The Wolverines are using IMG football's meetings rooms, locker rooms and athletic training area.
The field house is home base for several of the school's other teams. While football has been cleared out to avoid any contact with Michigan, the other athletes and coaches have been asked to use a separate entrance. The field house is sectioned off in a way that normally keeps football somewhat separate.
IMG officials are not commenting about Michigan's visit and Michigan's sports information department let media covering the Wolverines this week know that team members and staff would not be commenting about IMG.
Harbaugh did say on Monday, ''The accommodations are great.''
Michigan is paying IMG for the use of the facilities and food, but how much exactly the school has not said. Sports information director Dave Ablauf said this spring trip is similar logistically to a bowl trip.
The school has not released how much its trip to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl in January cost, but its 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl trip to Tempe, Arizona, cost $2.01 million, according to documents obtained by Mlive.com through a public records request.
This trip likely won't cost as much. Michigan's traveling party is much smaller and the Wolverines flew commercial to Florida instead of taking a charter.
And with the beach, a spring training baseball game and bowling, there is plenty to keep the players entertained without breaking the budget.
''We're doing a lot of stuff here,'' Mason said, ''which is fun.''
Follow Ralph D. Russo at Www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP