Big 10

Column: Jim Harbaugh calling Nick Saban a hypocrite is something Big Ten should embrace

June 2, 2016

ATLANTA — Let’s start out with this.

Not everything Jim Harbaugh does is the best thing possible for the Big Ten. Not every one of his Twitter spats is necessary or even make sense. Sometimes — like the Gene Smith shot — they can be a bit of a sensitive reach.

Contrary to the constant worship he often receives in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh isn’t always right.

But Tuesday night, and into Wednesday afternoon, Harbaugh’s shot at college football’s current coaching king was not only right on target but also completely warranted.

And it was something the entire Big Ten should get behind.

Alabama coach Nick Saban didn’t want to include Harbaugh’s name directly in his satellite camp rant earlier this week because he knew, if he did, he’d get a receipt for it. Regardless, as we know by now, Michigan’s head coach has a doctorate in reading between the lines.

Either way, when Saban wondered aloud if coaches (again, he wasn’t naming any names) were going to play by the book at satellite camps, every head man in the Big Ten had to have let out a belly laugh loud enough to rattle Paul Finebaum’s ears hundreds of miles away.

Harbaugh did more than that. He called him out — a hypocrite, actually. And I’m not sure how anyone can find fault with it.

Saban — who has, of course, won four national titles at Alabama — is literally in the middle of a situation where recruiting violations within his program were found. An assistant coach has been forced to resign and the school currently is awaiting the result of that NCAA investigation.

And if that were the only thing going on here, it’d probably be enough. But it’s not.

Like in 2009 when a businessman paid for stars Mark Ingram and Julio Jones to go on a fishing trip. Or in 2013 when a former Alabama player was caught giving Tide offensive lineman D.J. Fluker impermissible benefits. Or later that same year when Saban had to fire a staffer after he paid safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

Anyone remember that whole deal about the disassociated Alabama booster who continued to sell signed Crimson Tide merchandise — from players who still were on the team — back in 2014?

Yeah.

But there was Saban — who has an NCAA rule honorarily named after him — on Tuesday, demanding answers on whether or not a few summer camps would be on the up and up. So there was Harbaugh, who correctly decided to give the old “are you seriously going to sit there and say this with a straight face?” reply.

This stuff might as well have its own ticker in every SEC market because it’s not just an Alabama thing. Ole Miss is in the middle of what looks like a debacle. Coach Hugh Freeze is going on radio shows to take blame for this situation — sort of, but not really.

“The narrative (is) that we’re out (there) purchasing players,” Freeze said this week on the Paul Finebaum Show, “to my knowledge, there is zero allegations to that and zero truth to that.”

To your knowledge? Well, Laremy Tunsil just told a bunch of reporters at the NFL draft that he absolutely took money during his time at Ole Miss.

But, sure, let’s keep the focus where it should be. Those heinous satellite camps. A situation the SEC threw a fit about for a year. But here in Atlanta on Thursday, Georgia coach Kirby Smart will be right alongside Harbaugh at a camp downtown.

“I’m glad they came around,” Harbaugh said bluntly Wednesday afternoon in Indianapolis.

I wrote back in April that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s refusal to take a public stance against the SEC on the whole camp debate was worse than the original ban itself. I stand by that. Saban’s league continues to play the game by its own rules, without apology. Hypocrisy seems to be served for breakfast daily.

But still, no one says a word. The NCAA does nothing. The Big Ten continues to suffer.

Again, you don’t have to agree with everything Harbaugh does. Putting together 38 satellite camps in the month of June is complete overkill. He often appears to take things too personal. And his whole narrative about how these camps are only about spreading the joy of football (and have nothing to do with recruiting) is just absurd.

But in this instance, he was right on the money.

And the Big Ten should applaud that effort and replicate it as much as possible.

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