What we know about Michigan’s alleged NCAA violations
U of M and Jim Harbaugh are being investigated by the NCAA.Image: Getty Images
Less than a week after the Michigan Wolverines were eliminated from the College Football Playoff, the university was served with a Notice of Claims by the NCAA. This document consists of five alleged rule violations involving the university’s football program, and specifically coach Jim Harbaugh.
Four of the five violations are level two offenses, which are not considered very serious. The precedent for sentencing for Level II offenses is quite small. In 2017, the University of Virginia was reprimanded for a self-reported Tier II recruiting violation from the previous year. According to reports, the offense revolved around assistant coaches taking pictures with prospects. Virginia was fined only $5,000 for the violation, but was ordered to reduce off-campus contacts from six to four and spring 2017 assessments from 168 to 150. In addition, Virginia staff was given additional education about the rules — essentially the football version of the driver’s edit after picking up speed.
In Michigan’s case, the Level II violations describe contact with two prospective athletes during the COVID-19 dead period, as well as a self-reported violation for improperly using an analyst for on-field instructions. As I said earlier, these are considered minor violations.
The most serious accusation involves Jim Harbaugh
Level I violations, on the other hand, are taken very seriously and can result in a variety of penalties from the NSC. While each Level II violation may not be considered serious individually, collective Level II violations may be considered Level I violations. With the bargaining period beginning after Michigan received the Notice of Charges, it seems unlikely that they will incur a second violation of Tier I in this circumstance, but it is still a possibility.
Michigan’s Level I violation pertains to Harbaugh allegedly providing false or misleading information to NCAA investigators looking into one of the Level II violations listed above. Basically, if Harbaugh had just agreed to the investigation and allowed Michigan to commit various Level II violations, the university would not have faced serious consequences.
What kind of punishment could Michigan face?
The NCAA’s penalty system considers a postseason ban of 1-2 years acceptable for a Tier I infraction. That said, an aggravated Tier I infraction can carry a 2-4 year postseason ban. What constitutes an “aggravated” offense you ask? Well, one of the aggravating factors is whether the accused party “compromised the integrity of the investigation” and/or failed to cooperate with it. Providing false information to investigators appears to fall under this distinction.
In 2019, the University of Arizona was hit with five Tier I violations, including unethical recruiting practices, and a case where former assistant coach Mark Phelps asked an Arizona player to delete a text about a loan of 500 dollars that he had given and then lied about. investigators about it, among many others. In response, the university imposed a one-year postseason ban. After much deliberation by the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP), a one-year ban was deemed sufficient. Although the university suffered several other penalties, including a reduction in available scholarships and a two-week ban on official men’s basketball visits, the damage was more or less mitigated. While we can’t be sure what punishments Michigan will face, similar recruiting restrictions as well as a postseason ban or suspension are likely on the table.
If Harbaugh is found guilty of committing this Level I offense, Harbaugh will be open to termination from Michigan. His contract with the school allows them to fire him “for cause” if he commits a Level I or II violation.
Harbaugh has expressed interest in returning to Michigan in 2023 after his second straight trip to the College Football Playoff. However, Harbaugh is also a popular name among NFL head coaching rumors. A Level I offense could lead Harbaugh to accept an NFL job he wouldn’t otherwise have. After all, reports indicate that Harbaugh would take an NFL job if offered one.
While a Level I offense could be serious, it also may not be a deal breaker for Michigan, assuming he wants to stay with the university. It seems unlikely that Harbaugh will be hit with a reasonable penalty, as former Arizona men’s basketball assistant coaches Book Richardson and Mark Phelps were in 2019. Although the university could receive a Level I “lack of institutional control” violation, it is still possible that the school and Harbaugh could agree to an undisclosed disciplinary action separate from the NCAA’s consequences. If that happens, Michigan would probably decide not to fire Harbaugh.