A few days ago, Jim Harbaugh and Michigan announced that the Wolverines planned to spend spring break in Florida, but not by going to beaches. The idea is instead to conduct some spring practices at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, which is a place that produces some important recruits every year. In the 247Sports Composite, the No. 4, No. 12, and No. 47 recruits of 2016 came out of IMG, and in the early 2017 Composite, the players rated Nos. 1, 17, and 43 are currently attending.
Naturally, this raised some concerns in the SEC. Harbaugh went whole hog on satellite camps throughout the South last year, and to some this smacks of him trying to push into SEC territory again.
After the satellite camp brouhaha a year ago, the SEC and ACC proposed banning them. Now, the SEC is proposing a ban on spring practices during spring break too. As SEC commissioner Greg Sankey put it, the concern is not about trips like Michigan's proposed one being about recruiting but rather is about programs demanding too much of their players' time:
"Our primary reaction [is] that, in the face of the time-demand conversations, we've got one program taking what has been 'free time' away," Sankey said. "Let's draw a line and say, ‘That's not appropriate.'"
The SEC is completely right on this particular issue, and the NCAA should ban spring practice during spring break.
This is not about Harbaugh, and it's not about satellite camps. Harbaugh is a great character for the sport. He's funny if you like him, infuriating if you don't, and compelling either way. Sports are best when they have hero/villains like him. He even tweeted this yesterday, apparently in reaction to the SEC's opposition to his trip idea:
Question of the day: Does anyone find whining to be attractive? Just curious.— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) February 10, 2016
This sort of thing is good for college football as a sport.
I'm also not sure that the satellite camp idea should be banned. The SEC and ACC's opposition to them is that they exploit a loophole in recruiting regulations. The camps happen during dead periods, but if a coach attends a satellite camp, then he can get time with recruits during that dead period.
Dead periods exist to prevent high school players from being inundated with recruiting messaging all hours of the year. That's a good thing, but I'm not convinced that attending a voluntary camp or two over the summer is an unreasonable ask of their time. I can't imagine that a coach would drop recruiting a player if he chose not to attend a camp, and I'd also imagine that no player had to have his arm twisted to attend any of the satellite camps last year.
As long as these camps aren't a financial burden on the recruits' families—and it's my impression that they aren't—I don't really see the harm. The losers in the exchange, if you ask Mark Richt, are coaches who already work hard enough. Those coaches also make six or seven figure salaries and also get the benefit of time with recruits during a dead period.
Spring break trips are another matter entirely. Ask any current or former player and he'll tell you that football commitments add up to the equivalent of a full-time job. CBSSports.com's report on the SEC's objection says that, generally, "FBS players are allowed a maximum of four weeks off per year when they aren't accountable to the program". Spring break is one of those four weeks, so conducting practice during it would take away one of them.
As you know, college athletes do not make six or seven figure salaries. They are supposedly students first, but the time demands of athletics often make them unable to study effectively. NCAA public service announcements try to convince us that sports help develop the athletes for when they Go Pro in Something Other Than Sports, but the increasing expectation for football players to do football things all summer takes away players' abilities to do things like get summer jobs and internships. If it wasn't for the fact that some high school districts don't allow students to graduate early, there probably would already be a stigma against players who don't enroll early.
Fortunately, Dennis Dodd has a source who thinks that trips like Michigan's planned one will get banned, although not in time to stop this particular one this year.
Banning spring practice during spring break would kind of be about Harbaugh since he's the one pushing the envelope here. But really, it's not about him at all. It's about preserving what little free time players have left.