Jim Harbaugh was standing Monday in the Florida sun, fresh off the first spring practice of the year. He'd just told his Michigan football players to hit the beach for the rest of the afternoon before reconvening for team movie night.
This was a scene that terrified and tormented southern coaches, commissioners and even the president of the NCAA itself, although not for the reason they claimed. The truth was too petty and petrifying to admit, of course.
Jim Harbaugh was here for the recruits. Everyone knows that.
If he wanted to just practice, he could be back in Ann Arbor. If he wanted to practice "off-sight" he could be in Kalamazoo or Kentucky or anywhere that wasn't coincidentally a high school with so much talent that the University of Tennessee recently offered scholarships to 20 kids on its football roster. If he wanted to buckle down with his team, he wouldn't stage a Friday afternoon "open" workout, which promises to be teeming with even more high school coaches, parents and prospects.
Of course Jim Harbaugh was here for the recruits and of course the SEC and ACC aren't happy about it. They just won't acknowledge it.
So they claim they are opposed for disingenuous and hypocritical reasons such as student-athlete free time. They vow to rewrite legislation, ASAP, to prevent this kind of gross exploitation of a bunch of spring break football players.
So Harbaugh, the master of subtweets and subtle shots, stood surrounded by local and national and back-home media (another ancillary reason for being here) and decided to play just as dumb as his howling critics.
How about the benefits of taking your program to a talent-rich area, while reminding all those snow-bound recruits back in the Midwest that signing with Michigan means annual trips to the sun?
How about the recruiting advantage, Jim?
"I don't know that there is one," Harbaugh deadpanned.
So, so good.
If one side is going to be ridiculous, then Harbaugh can raise them.
Recruits, what recruits? Staging practices in a state with 50 kids rated four or five stars by Rivals.com, and that's just the Class of 2017? Specifically coming to IMG Academy in Bradenton, where there are two Rivals.com five-star rated prospects and 11 more dubbed four-star who will be seniors next year?
What a coincidence. If the SEC won't say they hate this because of recruiting then why should Jim Harbaugh say he loves it because of recruiting.
"Be outside," Harbaugh said as a chief reason for being there. "You ever seen the movie 'Remember the Titans'?"
(It includes scenes focusing on the positives of taking a team away for preseason practices).
"Check it out," Harbaugh continued. "Take a look at it. We're going to watch it tonight. Team building. Team development. Getting to know each other better."
There is no doubt some of that will occur. Teams of all sorts – from high school through NFL – like the concept of "off-site" training camps. Until now, college coaches never thought of taking the humble spring practice and planting it the middle of an out-of-state recruiting hotbed.
If this were being staged in Saginaw, no one would have said a peep.
Instead there's been a lot of howling about student-athlete welfare and the need for players to have vacation time and a bunch of other stuff that would make sense if not for the fact that pretty much every single decision made by college administrators over the past five decades never paid a lick of attention to any of that.
"This seems completely counter to the dialogue," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told CBSSports.com. "We have work to do on [providing a] day off. We have work to do on, how do you provide a postseason break? It seems where this is one where reasonable people could say we just shouldn't be in this space."
Those are noble goals. Sankey isn't wrong about the demands on student-athletes. Here's hoping he really tackles the issue.
It's especially prudent in football. Lacking a union, college kids can't get full contact practices limited in preseason camp or during the season, like the pros. In the NCAA, you can run Oklahoma drills all day, every day, twice a day.
College players can't negotiate the time off that NFLers have – organized team activities for the pros don't begin until late April and often not until late May. That's four or five months off for most players. Somehow the sport thrives. In college you get less than two – which doesn't even count crack-of-dawn "voluntary" weight training sessions just a week or so after a bowl game.
No one seems too concerned about that.
To focus solely on the issue of a handful of off-campus spring practices by one school, however, is to engage in absurd selectivity. The idea that players need spring break to themselves is a nice concept, but not some irrefutable argument.
Many players, just like most regular college students, can't afford to go away for spring break, no matter what the old movies claim. The majority of cash strapped "normal" students probably use the time to work.
Besides, there is a perfectly good counter-argument that getting four or five days of spring practice out of the way when class isn't in session helps free up the guys a little when it actually is [there are limits to the number of practices allowed]. A few fine spring afternoons off during the semester has value too.
More notably, no one in college football cared when they expanded the regular season to run through Thanksgiving weekend, eliminating player's time with family during a traditional holiday break.
And no one is stepping up to kill bowl games that wipe out the end of the semester vacation – where regular students are often exhausted after the grind of finals. Instead, some teams get sent to hotel rooms in Shreveport or Detroit or wherever for Christmas Day itself, so there is college football television programming on the 26th and 27th.
Look, if some old crony of these commissioners had figured out how to profit off spring break practices a couple decades ago – and then spent the ensuing years paying for rounds of golf for athletic directors – this would be deemed an honorable "tradition" and a "reward" that must be saved, even more so if coaches and administrators had "off-sight spring practice bonuses" in their contracts.
As Harbaugh noted, eastern and northern teams in other sports routinely head south or west to practice or play during spring break.
"Our tennis team will be hitting balls here this week, as a matter of fact," Harbaugh noted of IMG Academy itself.
Who weeps for those exploited forehands though?
It goes on and on. Basketball teams are allowed to occasionally take international summer trips, which means not just cutting into summer vacation, but a couple weeks of practice back on campus to prepare.
It was once sold as a great educational opportunity – tour some European capital by day, play some ball at night. It made sense. Many schools still do it right.
Others, though, watched as their coaches, with the blessing of their now aghast ADs, commissioners and NCAA president, turned it into nothing more than a loophole to allow an extra training camp.
They began eschewing Rome and Paris and Beijing for the Americanized resorts in the Bahamas and Mexico, or Canadian towns such Niagara Falls and Windsor, Ont., which are culturally different only if you consider Tim Horton's exotic. That first bite of a Tim Bit will stick with you like getting lost in the architectural and artistic glory of the Sistine Chapel.
"There is a big debate going on among administrators right now about how to provide more time off for student-athletes, so the use of spring break for practices caused a lot of people to be concerned about it, and that's an appropriate concern," Emmert told The State newspaper. "We are trying to find ways to dial back the demands on student-athletes, not ramp them up."
No one is dialing anything back. Not one bowl game is getting canceled. No one is demanding summer trips must include actual educational possibilities. No one is scaling back the length of the season. No one is making conferences smaller and more sensible to cut down on player travel. Not one football practice is being set aside as non-contact.
Jim Harbaugh might get an extra recruit or two out of Florida though, and suddenly there is panic.
But this isn't about recruits, they say. So this isn't about recruits, Harbaugh says.
Nonsense befitting nonsense; here's hoping the Wolverines enjoyed the beach on Monday.