Michigan self-imposes 3-game ban for Harbaugh

Michigan self-imposed a three-game suspension for football coach Jim Harbaugh to begin the 2023 season, stemming from alleged violations during the COVID-19 dead period, the university announced Monday.

“While the ongoing NCAA matter continues through the NCAA process, today’s announcement is our way of addressing mistakes that our department has agreed to in an attempt to further that process,” athletic director Warde Manuel said in a statement. “We will continue to support coach Harbaugh, his staff, and our outstanding student-athletes. Per the NCAA’s guidelines, we cannot comment further until the matter is resolved.”

In a statement released by the school, Harbaugh said, “I will continue to do what I always tell our players and my kids at home, ‘Don’t get bitter, get better.'”

Michigan said an announcement on an interim coach for the three games will be made at a later date.

Harbaugh will miss home games against East Carolina, UNLV and Bowling Green before making his return to the sideline for Michigan’s Big Ten opener Sept. 23 against Rutgers. In July, he had seemingly been set for a negotiated resolution and a four-game suspension to begin the season, but the NCAA’s infractions committee rejected the agreement earlier this month, sources told ESPN’s Pete Thamel.

Harbaugh will be allowed to coach during the week but will be barred from coaching those first three Saturday games, a source told ESPN.

Michigan’s self-imposed suspension for Harbaugh is designed to soften the potential ruling from the NCAA, which likely won’t come until 2024, a source said. Harbaugh faces a Level I violation, which would be for not cooperating with or misleading NCAA investigators about the alleged violations.

A source familiar with the case told Thamel that Michigan’s decision to self-impose the three-game suspension of Harbaugh is indicative of the severity of the eventual potential ruling against Harbaugh. It’s a move that shows the school is trying to essentially curry favor for good behavior, a source told Thamel, and mitigate some of the eventual punishment.

Schools rarely overreach in self-imposing penalties. While the entire process has to play out, more punishment for Harbaugh is a reasonable expectation, considering the school’s actions. The NCAA had pushed back on one of the media narratives that had emerged from the case, which was that it revolved around paying for a cheeseburger. The reality of the self-imposed penalties show there is likely more to the case.

The NCAA took the unusual step of issuing a statement about an ongoing investigation earlier this month when it outlined some specifics of the Michigan situation and the negotiated resolution process.

“The Michigan infractions case is related to impermissible on and off-campus recruiting during the COVID-19 dead period and impermissible coaching activities — not a cheeseburger,” Derrick Crawford, NCAA vice president of hearing operations, said in the statement, referring to the simplistic characterization of the violations in some media reports. “It is not uncommon for the [committee on infractions] to seek clarification on key facts prior to accepting. The COI may also reject an NR [negotiated resolution] if it determines that the agreement is not in the best interests of the Association or the penalties are not reasonable. If the involved parties cannot resolve a case through the negotiated resolution process, it may proceed to a hearing, but the committee believes cooperation is the best avenue to quickly resolve issues.”

Harbaugh has declined to comment about the investigation but said in July at Big Ten media days, “I’d love to lay it all out there — there’s nothing to be ashamed of — but now is not that time.”

Sources told ESPN in January that Harbaugh could face a suspension of three to six games for a Level I violation. Michigan also faces four Level II violations, which are considered less serious.

Harbaugh, 59, is entering his ninth season at Michigan, his alma mater. He has guided the Wolverines to consecutive Big Ten championships and College Football Playoff appearances, and Michigan enters the fall as the league favorite. Harbaugh is 74-25 as coach of the Wolverines.

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