Big 10

Has Jim Harbaugh Taken Satellite Camps Too Far?

May 17, 2016

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As of Monday, the number of publicly announced satellite camps Michigan had planned for next month sat at a robust 34, according to a list compiled by Mark Snyder of The Detroit Free Press.

For those keeping track at home, there are only 30 days in the month of June.

If the NCAA couldn’t stop Jim Harbaugh from recruiting how he wanted, with its banning of the practice lasting a mere three weeks, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a calendar hasn’t been able to limit the Wolverines’ reach either. The logistics of Harbaugh’s second satellite camp tour, which will include not only stops across the country but in Australia and America Samoa as well, remain unclear, but at this point, Michigan’s June plans are already unlike anything ever seen in college football before.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Harbaugh told reporters earlier this month of possible self-imposed limit on his camps.

Considering how much Harbaugh has expanded his use of the already controversial practice, this may be his last chance to take this sort of approach on an unlimited basis.

With the NCAA having already announced a “holistic review of the football recruiting environment” in its rescinding of the satellite camp ban, it’s hard to imagine Harbaugh’s excessive summer tour will sit well with the Division I Council and NCAA rules-makers. While another outright ban is probably unlikely, a restriction on either miles traveled or number of camps held could be a reality as soon as next summer.

There’s also a good chance that Harbaugh knows exactly what he’s doing.

“I don’t think this is his goal, but by doing this, by having 30-plus camps, he’s making sure there will be a limitation. He’s 100 percent assuring that,” National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell told Bleacher Report. “When the NCAA meets, they’re going to have to put some restrictions on this … there is no way the NCAA can control hundreds of camps in a one-and-a-half month period.”

The matter may not be as simple as Harbaugh more than tripling his satellite camp output from a year ago—although that probably won’t help his cause. In fact, Farrell went as far as to say that one of the second-year Wolverines head coach’s motivations in his extravagant June tour may be “thumbing his nose at the NCAA for telling him what he can’t do.”

“They saw what happened last year,” he said. “They know his personality is to take something and put it on steroids.”

But the sheer mass of Harbaugh’s sequel to last year’s 10-camp “Summer Swarm Tour” is only a piece of the puzzle.

Perhaps more troubling to the NCAA will be the locations of this year’s stops. With more dates to fill, the Michigan staff will find itself at significantly more high schools than it did a year ago, which isn’t necessarily the ideal—or intended—use of the loophole in the NCAA rulebook that permits schools from hosting such camps.

While it may be more transparent to go directly to the high schools, the NCAA would prefer the Wolverines staff serve as guest instructors at the camps of other colleges, as it will during a June 12 stop at Baylor’s camp in Waco, Texas.

The reasoning? By hosting a college for a satellite camp, high schools can potentially gain power the NCAA can’t regulate.

“That’s a whole other slippery slope that they don’t want,” Farrell said. “They don’t want high schools dictating who’s holding camps where and holding that over the heads of colleges.”

For example, if a high school is approached by Michigan about hosting a camp, what’s to stop that school from inviting Ohio State and Michigan State to host their own camps at the same school? The implied—or perhaps explicit—threat would be that if those schools say, ‘No,’ that school’s loyalties would then lie with the Wolverines.

In certain ways, satellite camp-inspired turf wars have already begun to play out heading into the summer. Unsurprisingly, Michigan finds itself in the middle of many of them.

It started mere hours after the NCAA lifted its satellite camp ban, with Georgia head coach Kirby Smart opting to join the Wolverines at a June 2 camp in Atlanta, sponsored by Cedar Grove High School. A week later, it was revealed Michigan will be working a camp at traditional Ohio State pipeline St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on June 3—two weeks before the Buckeyes’ June 16 camp at the South Florida prep powerhouse.

Most recently, Harbaugh has been further implanting his recruiting footprint in the Garden State. And after it was revealed Michigan will be working a camp at New Jersey’s Paramus Catholic High School, Ohio State, Rutgers and Temple opted to team up for a camp just six miles away on the same day and at the same time.

What a coincidence.

Their newness having worn off and their novelty no longer unique to Michigan, most seem to have become desensitized to satellite camps news, but Harbaugh has still found a way to keep his name in the headlines with his unique approach. Of course, that’s all a part of Harbaugh’s strategy, which has seen him become one of college football’s most prominent head coaches in the 16 months since he returned to Ann Arbor.

“The publicity is something he’s obviously gaining from this for sure,” said Farrell. “From a marketing and publicity standpoint, he is an absolute genius. This is going to play out very very well for him.”

A year ago, Farrell thought the reaction to Harbaugh’s camps was overblown as they only directly led to a few of Michigan’s lower-ranked commitments in its 2016 class. This year, all bets are off. With the increase in volume of camps not only featuring the Wolverines, but programs across the country, the reality is that satellite camps could ultimately go a long way toward shaping this summer’s recruiting landscape.

“It’s an arms race,” said Farrell. “Just like we used to have to worry about facilities being an arms race and all that, it’s an arms race with satellite camps.”

As a result, the Wolverines find themselves with a sizable lead, but for how much longer there will even be a race remains unclear as possible restrictions loom.

“It’s now gone from a topic of controversy to out of control,” said Farrell.

But as far as this year is concerned, Harbaugh remains intent on making the most of his unlimited allotment of satellite camps.

And there’s nothing anyone—or any calendar—can do about it.


Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report’s Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruit rankings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

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