For years, SEC football teams have ruled comfortably in a land where they could be confident that nobody could, or would, out-nutty them.
Hire coaching staffs large enough to occupy small countries? Check.
Build multi-million dollar indoor practice facilities that serve as little more than a five-minute stop on recruiting visits? Check.
Take truly astounding amounts of money from television networks and then play games when and where they say? Check.
It all worked wonderfully, too. The SEC has won eight of the last 10 national championships, its athletics departments are flush with cash and league schools have put their heads on the pillow each night since at least the turn of the century confident that no one else wanted that glory bad enough to chase it as desperately.
Now one man does.
Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, formerly of Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers, has pulled up a chair at the SEC’s formerly exclusive poker table of kooky power brokers.
A brief synopsis of the waves Harbaugh has made since being named head coach at his alma mater on Dec. 29, 2014:
▪ Hired the mother of Stanford’s Wayne Lyons shortly before Lyons decided to use his final year of eligibility at Michigan as a graduate transfer.
▪ Introduced the term “satellite camps” to the vernacular by hosting University of Michigan summer camps off-campus and in fertile southern recruiting territories.
▪ Spent the night at a recruit’s home on the first day of the contact period.
▪ Is on the verge, according a report this week in the Miami Herald, of hiring Pembroke Pines (Fla.) Flanagan High coach Devin Bush Sr., the father of four-star linebacker Devin Bush Jr. (who just signed with the Wolverines, along with two other Flanagan players).
Harbaugh’s most recent affront to the SEC’s dignity is his plan to hold some of Michigan’s spring practices at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., during Michigan’s spring break.
Enter first-year SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. He didn’t like the satellite camps ideas (calling them, not incorrectly, “recruiting camps”), and he really doesn’t like Harbaugh’s latest move.
Sankey has asked the NCAA to outlaw the idea of off-campus spring practices before Harbaugh can get the buses loaded, citing excessive time demands on athletes.
“That's the national issue and if I'm the only one that is going to speak about it, so be it,” Sankey told AL.com. “But it is one piece of this conversation that we don't need to further. In addition, we need to understand that it's really clear when people do things – push the boundaries – others follow and I think it is all in our collective best interests to say out-of-season sports using, in this case, spring break for practice purposes, is not appropriate.”
Sankey is 100 percent correct. The idea of players from the University of Michigan being whisked to Florida on spring break for football practice is absurd. The problem for the SEC is it’s the league that drove the (ESPN logo swathed) bus right over absurd a long time ago, and it has thrown the bus in reverse and backed over absurd’s dead corpse repeatedly since then.
Sankey gets to the heart of the problem right there in his statement to AL.com – “when people do things – push the boundaries – others follow.”
Harbaugh, it seems, has no interest in following. He wants to lead, and heaven knows where he’s going to take this thing.