John U. Bacon: Harbaugh suspension is a smart move by Michigan
A few weeks ago, it appeared that the University of Michigan and the NCAA had agreed to a four-game suspension of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh for a number of alleged violations of NCAA rules.
Then that agreement fell apart. This week, U of M announced that it is self-sanctioning by suspending Harbaugh for three games.
Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about the suspension.
Doug Tribou: After the deal with the NCAA seemed to break down, it appeared unlikely the NCAA would issue any rulings before next year. So why did U of M decide to issue its own suspension for Harbaugh now?
John U. Bacon: Well, there are a few unknowns in this equation, and you've hit upon two of them already. One is, why did the negotiations break down? We don't know if it was Michigan or the NCAA who backed out.
Two, why did Michigan do this now? They've not said.
Under U of M's self-imposed sanction, Harbaugh will miss games against East Carolina, UNLV, and Bowling Green. It's not clear if the NCAA will accept the punishment or add more to it in 2024.
And of course, three, the biggest issue is the NCAA is claiming that Harbaugh either lied or misled initially about these four misdemeanors. And of course, Harbaugh's saying he didn't. And we don't have the evidence on either side.
But if I had to guess, I would say this: I think it's a very smart move by Michigan to do this for a few reasons.
One, they gave themselves three games. The three games in question, Doug, are East Carolina, UNLV and Bowling Green. These are not football powers. So those are three pretty easy games to take.
If you don't do this, and the NCAA says in January  they want to give you four games next year, you have Texas probably in the second game and maybe USC, the new Big Ten member, in the fourth game. Those are two big, highlighter games that you can really screw up, so this was very smart for Michigan to do.
DT: You've got the Level 2 violations, the more minor ones about recruiting and some technicalities on improper coaching. But the bigger issue remains the Level 1 allegations where the NCAA takes the view that Jim Harbaugh either didn't cooperate or misled investigators. Will the NCAA, given that more serious allegation, accept what Michigan's done to itself?
JUB: There is absolutely no telling and it's not even clear who will be in charge of the [NCAA] Committee on Infractions when you get to January. So, these are all great unknowns. Probably a reason why Michigan would rather take a plea bargain, a self-imposed plea bargain, if you will, now.
DT: John, I'm pulling out my calculator here, but it appears to me that four games is more than three games. Do you think Michigan made the correct move in lowering the number that had been reported with a four game suspension looming?
JUB: Well, I've run your numbers through a big computer, Doug, and it's true. In fact, four is more than three. So your numbers check out. That's good news.
Part of me thinks that's a bit of a "screw you" to the NCAA, saying we think this is bull we always have thought this is bull and to prove it, we're gonna give ourselves one less game than you would have.
DT: You touched on this, the first three games that Harbaugh will now miss this fall are not against the toughest of competition, so Michigan would remain a favorite. But in the bigger scheme of things, you've got a suspension. There is always the concern about distractions and disruptions in the world of sports.
Should Michigan fans still feel confident about the start of what is a heavily hyped season otherwise?
JUB: Doug, they should be very confident. I think if any fans out there can name all three mascots for East Carolina, UNLV, and Bowling Green, you are a hardcore fan. These are not red-letter programs, to say the least.
Also, you raise another point we have not discussed before. This at least ends the conversation during this season. And this season could be a national title season. So that's another smart reason to get it off the radar for now. It's really in part a PR battle that the NCAA currently is losing.
DT: You've made a lot of bold predictions on this program, but I think the prediction that this will end the conversation during the season might be the boldest yet. [laughing]
JUB: [Laughs] And by bold, I think you mean dumbest. You're being very nice. That is my dumbest prediction delivered so far. You're correct.
Editor's notes: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.
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