Less than a week after the Michigan Wolverines were eliminated from the College Football Playoffgot the university one Notice of Allegations by the NCAA. This document consists of five alleged violations involving the university’s football program, and specifically head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Four of the five breaches are level II breaches, which are not considered particularly serious. The precedent for penalties for Level II violations is quite small. IN 2017, the University of Virginia was reprimanded for a self-reported Level II recruiting violation from the previous year. In accordance reports, the violation revolved around assistant coaches taking photos with prospects. Virginia was fined just $5,000 for this infraction, but was ordered to reduce off-campus contacts from six to four and 2017 spring evaluations from 168 to 150. Furthermore, Virginia employees received additional training in rules—basically the football version of the driver’s oath after having taken too soon.
In Michigan’s case, Level II break outline contact with two prospective athletes during the COVID-19 death period, as well as a self-reported violation for improperly using an analyst for on-field instruction. As I said earlier, these are considered minor violations.
The most serious allegation involves Jim Harbaugh
Level I violations on the other hand are taken very seriously and can incur a number of penalties from the NCAA. Although each Level II violation may not be considered serious individually, collective Level II violations may be considered one Level I violation. With the hearing period beginning after Michigan received the notice of allegations, it seems unlikely that they would face another Level I violation in this circumstance, but it remains a possibility.
Michigan’s Level I violation pertains to Harbaugh allegedly providing false or misleading information to NCAA investigators looking into one of the Level II violations listed above. Essentially, if Harbaugh had simply complied with the investigation and allowed Michigan to incur the various Level II violations, the university would not have faced serious consequences.
What kind of penalties can Michigan incur?
The NCAA’s penalty system considers a postseason ban of 1-2 years acceptable for a Level I violation. That said, an aggravated Level I violation can result in a 2-4 year post-season suspension. What does a breach consider “aggravated” you ask? Well, one of the aggravating factors is whether or not the charged party “compromised the integrity of the investigation” and/or failed to cooperate with it. Providing false information to investigators seems to fall under this distinction.
IN 2019, the University of Arizona was hit with five Level I violations, including unethical recruiting practices, and one case in which former assistant coach Mark Phelps asked an Arizona player to delete a text thread about a $500 loan he had made and then lied to investigators about it , among many more. In response, the university itself imposed a one-year suspension after the season. After much deliberation by the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP), a one-year ban was deemed sufficient. Although the university suffered several other penalties in addition, including the reduction of available scholarships and a two-week ban on official visits for men’s basketball prospects, the damage was more or less mitigated. While we can’t be sure of the penalties Michigan will face, similar recruiting restrictions as well as a postseason ban or suspension are likely on the table.
Should Harbaugh be found guilty of committing this Level I violation, Harbaugh would be open to dismissal from Michigan. His contract with the school allows them to fire him “for cause” if he commits a Level I or II violation.
Harbaugh has expressed interest when he returned to Michigan in 2023 after his second straight trip to the College Football Playoff. However, Harbaugh is also a popular name among NFL head coaching rumors. A Level I violation could push Harbaugh to accept an NFL job he wouldn’t otherwise have. After all, reports suggest Harbaugh would take an NFL job if one was offered to him.
While a Level I violation could be serious, it also may not be a deal breaker for Michigan, assuming he wants to stay with the university. It seems unlikely that Harbaugh will be hit with a penalty, as former Arizona basketball coaches Book Richardson and Mark Phelps were hit in 2019. While the university could receive a Level I “lack of institutional control” violation, it remains possible that the school and Harbaugh agreed to undisclosed disciplinary action separate from the NCAA consequences. If that happens to be the case, Michigan would likely choose not to fire Harbaugh.