Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, NCAA Working Towards 4-Game Suspension Due to Recruiting Investigation

Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, NCAA Working Towards 4-Game Suspension Due to Recruiting Investigation

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and the NCAA are working on a negotiated resolution that should see him suspended for four games this season on penalties stemming from alleged false statements he originally made to investigators, sources tell Yahoo Sports.

The agreement is an early version of the negotiated resolution and is not yet finalized. The resolution now must be approved by the NCAA Infractions Committee, which could take several days, if not weeks. The committee has the authority to adjust penalties.

Michigan’s first four games are all at home, with three against Group of Five teams (East Carolina, UNLV and Bowling Green). On Sept. 23, Michigan hosts a Rutgers team that finished 4-8 last season. The Wolverines, who are returning several key pieces of the team that finished 13-1 the previous season, are expected to start the year in the top five of the preseason rankings.

Harbaugh’s impending suspension centers on an NCAA investigation into recruiting violations committed by him and members of the Wolverines team. The NCAA enforcement team alleged that Harbaugh was dishonest about recruiting violations in his initial meeting with investigators. A quick resolution was broken in January after Harbaugh refused to admit that he lied to the NCAA team. The 59-year-old said he had no memory of the events when he first spoke to investigators, but that he was never willfully dishonest.

The University of Michigan did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

An earlier member of Harbaugh’s team did not escape unscathed. Former defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, now defensive coordinator for Harbaugh’s brother John with the Baltimore Ravens, is expected to receive a one-year penalty for cause. Cause penalties make it harder for coaches to get jobs in college athletics.

Two current Michigan assistants are also expected to receive sanctions, including offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore and head coach Grant Newsome.

For Harbaugh, the negotiated resolution is a sign that the coach has recognized some kind of dishonesty. The NCAA considers lying to investigators a Level I violation, the most serious on the organization’s scale. A Level I violation can carry a six-game suspension and significant recruiting restrictions under NCAA Bylaws.

Harbaugh’s initial alleged cover-up was worse than the crime itself from an NCAA perspective. In a notice of allegations sent to Michigan last year, the association cited four Level II violations, including meeting with two recruits during a COVID-19 dead period, texting a recruit outside of an allowable period, analysts performing training tasks on the field during practice, and coaches watching players exercise via Zoom.

Harbaugh eventually acknowledged that the program had committed Level II violations, but refused to sign any documents or publicly state that he was ever lying to the enforcement team.

The NCAA defines Level II violations as resulting in “less than substantial or extensive recruitment, competitive or other advantage.” In addition, he calls them “systemic violations that do not equate to a lack of institutional control”. Punishments are generally minor.

However, lying to investigators is considered a much more serious matter. A resolution between the NCAA and Harbaugh seemed far off a few months ago. During two meetings in January, the NCAA and Harbaugh stood their ground and refused to back down from their positions. The NCAA said the coach lied. The coach said that he just forgot about insignificant actions. A stalemate resulted.

All of this came during a busy period for the football program. The Wolverines lost to TCU on New Year’s Eve in the College Football Playoff Semifinals. He capped off a 13-win season that saw the Wolverines sweep the Big Ten and defeat Ohio State for the second year in a row.

Within days, Harbaugh’s name surfaced again for several NFL head coaching vacancies, including the Denver Broncos, who he spoke to. Then news of the NCAA infraction case broke and Harbaugh remained coy about returning to his alma mater for a ninth season.

Later in January, Harbaugh and the university declared that he would return for the 2023 season, but the NCAA’s impending case remained.

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