Less than a week after the Michigan Wolverines were eliminated from the College Football Playoffthe university was transferred Notification of allegations by the NCAA. This document contains five alleged breaches of policy regarding the university’s football program, and in particular head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Four out of five breaches are Level II breaches, which are not considered very serious. There is rather little precedent for sanctioning Level II violations. In 2017The University of Virginia was reprimanded for a self-reported Tier II enrollment violation from the previous year. According reports, the offense involved photographing assistant coaches with candidates. Virginia was only fined $5,000 for this infraction, but was ordered to limit off-campus contact from six to four and Spring 2017 grades from 168 to 150. In addition, Virginia employees received additional education on the rules – basically a football version of driver training after getting caught on speeding.
In the case of Michigan, level II violations describe contact with two potential athletes during the COVID-19 death period, as well as a self-reported violation of misusing an analyst to instruct on the field. As I said before, these are minor violations.
The most serious allegation concerns Jim Harbaugh
Level I violations, on the other hand, are taken very seriously and may carry a variety of NCAA penalties. While each Level II violation may not individually be considered serious, collective Level II violations can be considered as First degree violation. Given the negotiating period starting after Michigan received notice of the allegations, it seems unlikely that a second Tier I violation will occur in this situation, but it is still possible.
Michigan’s Level I violation relates to Harbaugh’s alleged supply of false or misleading information to NCAA investigators investigating one of the Level II violations listed above. Essentially, had Harbaugh complied with the investigation and allowed Michigan to commit various Tier II violations, the university would not have faced serious repercussions.
What penalty can Michigan face?
The NCAA penalty system considers a 1-2 year postseason ban acceptable for a Tier I violation. That said, an aggravated Tier I violation can result in a 2-4 year postseason ban. What is considered a “aggravated” violation, you ask? Well, one of the aggravating factors is whether the defendant “compromised the integrity of the investigation” and/or did not cooperate with him. Providing false information to investigators seems to fall within this distinction.
In 2019The University of Arizona was sanctioned with five Tier I violations, including unethical recruiting practices, and one instance where former assistant coach Mark Phelps asked an Arizona player to delete a text thread about a $500 loan he had taken out and then lied to investigators on this, among many others. In response, the university itself imposed a one-year post-season ban. After much deliberation through the Independent Liability Resolution Process (IARP), a one-year ban was deemed sufficient. Although the university suffered several other penalties and, including a reduction in available scholarships and a two-week ban on visits by official men’s basketball prospects, the damage was more or less mitigated. While we cannot be sure of the penalties Michigan faces, similar recruiting restrictions as well as a post-season ban or suspension are likely on the table.
Had Harbaugh been found guilty of this Level I violation, Harbaugh would have been open to termination from Michigan. His contract with the school allows them to fire him “with good cause” if he commits a Level I or II misdemeanor.
Harbaugh voiced 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 coach rumors. A Level I violation may prompt Harbaugh to accept a job in the NFL that he would not otherwise have taken. After all, reports indicate that Harbaugh would do it take a job with the NFL, if offered.
While a Tier I violation may be serious, it also may not mean a deal breaker for Michigan, assuming she wants to stay at the university. It seems unlikely that Harbaugh will be penalized with an exhibition penalty like former Arizona men’s basketball assistant coaches Book Richardson and Mark Phelps in 2019. While the university may receive a Level I “lack of institutional control” violation, it is still possible that the school and Harbaugh will agree to undisclosed disciplinary action independent of NCAA repercussions. Had that happened, Michigan would likely have chosen not to fire Harbaugh.