Three years ago, three boxes needed to be checked or Jim Harbaugh could be out the door as the Michigan head coach. He needed to beat Ohio State, win a Big Ten title, and get to the playoffs. With all of those boxes now checked for back-to-back seasons, one higher expectation has taken their place - lead the Wolverines to their first national title in the BCS and College Football Playoff era.
Just as the Wolverines were becoming a consensus favorite in Michigan sportsbooks and beyond, a potentially huge roadblock was thrown in their quest for that elusive crown in the form of a possible 4-game suspension for the head coach.
On Saturday, the NCAA Committee on Infractions (COI) vice president of hearing operations, issued a rare, if not odd, public statement that "the Michigan case is related to impermissible on and off-campus recruiting during the COVID-19 dead period and impermissible coaching activities and “not a cheeseburger.”
Derrick Crawford noted the COI is seeking clarification on key facts and "may also reject an NR (negotiated resolution) if it determines that the agreement is not in the best interests of the Association or the penalties are not reasonable."
Crawford's response may have been triggered, in part, by an SBNation article that seemed to reduce the major COVID-19 dead period activities to the simple act of the coaches by recruits a meal at a restaurant called The Brown Jug. Joseph Acosta's opinion piece asked, "What did Harbaugh allegedly do?" He answered his own question by saying, "Well, not much apparently. According to (Yahoo! Sports writer Ross) Dellenger, Harbaugh is being suspended for alleged false statements made to the NCAA in response to an investigation of recruiting violations he and Michigan staff members made."
OK. That makes perfect sense. Acosta even adds, "The NCAA cited four Level II violations, which include meeting with recruits during a COVID-19 dead period (a time during the calendar year where coaches cannot meet with recruits physically), texting a recruit outside of an allowable time period, and having coaches watch players work out over Zoom."
The point that NCAA's Crawford seems to have taken issue with, is the dismissive claim that "this beef is over ... well ... beef." That point obviously being made in reference to the aforementioned restaurant.
Acosta then goes on to write that "higher, more serious accusation is the Level I violation Jim Harbaugh committed, which is lying to the investigators about the things he allegedly did. That’s the major reason he is getting suspended for four games."
The article then called Michigan's negotiated resolution of a 4-game suspension to be "absolutely hilarious to me."
That negotiated resolution has, for now, been rejected by the NCAA and will not likely be resolved until sometime in 2024.
But, exactly what is the NCAA's beef at denying the NR right now? It has nothing to do with Acosta, or his article. The most likely reason is, and we only join the speculation here, that Harbaugh himself hasn't fully accepted responsibility.
It should be noted that Harbaugh is not the only one that is being targeted for punishment. Offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore and tight ends coach Grant Newsome are expected to receive one-game suspensions, while Michael MacDonald (not associated with the Doobie Brothers) gets a one-year show-cause penalty.
Note that MacDonald, the 'former' defensive coordinator has returned to work for Jim's brother, John, with the NFL's Baltimore Ravens'. MacDonald had worked for the Ravens in various capacities from 2014-2020, and returned as the DC for John in Baltimore in 2022. As he is employed in the NFL and not seeking to work in college, the 1-year 'show cause" penalty means nothing.
In the meantime, Michigan will kick off its 2023 campaign with a breezy September schedule that keeps the team in Ann Arbor until the final game of the month. The most daunting game on the schedule may actually NOT be Ohio State as the Wolverines get the Buckeyes at home. Instead, beware of the trip to State College, Pennsylvania two weeks prior to that arch rival showdown as Penn State is also among the favorites to capture the B1G crown.
Still, the Michigan players will need to avoid believing all of the hype, or the championship chase could end before the month of October is gone. The Wolverines go to Minnesota on October 7 and visit Michigan State on October 21. A loss in Minneapolis would be historically unlikely since they are 42-4 vs. the Gophers since 1968, but Michigan is just 3-4 in East Lansing since 2009.
Home Games in BOLD
9/2 East Carolina
9/16 Bowling Green
9/30 at Nebraska
10/7 at Minnesota
10/21 at Michigan State
11/11 at Penn State
11/18 at Maryland
11/25 Ohio State