Sources: Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, NCAA working toward 4-game suspension over recruiting investigation

Apr 1, 2023; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh on the sideline during the Spring Game at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is facing punishment from the NCAA for recruiting violations. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

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that is expected to see him suspended four games this season in penalties stemming from alleged false statements he originally made to investigators, sources tell Yahoo Sports.

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

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

Harbaugh’s impending suspension is centered on an NCAA investigation into recruiting violations committed by he and Wolverines staff members. The NCAA enforcement staff alleged that Harbaugh was dishonest about the recruiting violations in his initial meeting with investigators. A quick resolution broke down in January after Harbaugh refused to admit that he lied to NCAA staff. The 59-year-old coach has maintained he didn’t recall the events when first speaking with investigators but that he was never purposefully dishonest.

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

A previous Harbaugh staff member did not escape unscathed. Former defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, now the defensive coordinator for Harbaugh’s brother John at the Baltimore Ravens, is expected to receive a one-year show-cause penalty. Show-cause penalties make it more difficult for coaches to land jobs in college athletics.

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

For Harbaugh, the negotiated resolution is a signal that the coach acknowledged some sort of dishonesty. The NCAA considers lying to investigators as a Level I violation, the most serious on the organization’s scale. A Level I violation could carry with it a six-game suspension and significant recruiting restrictions, according to NCAA statutes.

Harbaugh’s alleged initial cover-up was worse than the crime itself from the NCAA's 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 time period, having analysts perform on-field coaching duties during practice and having coaches watching players work out via Zoom.

Harbaugh eventually acknowledged that the program committed the Level II violations but refused to sign any document or publicly state that he was ever untruthful with the enforcement staff.

The NCAA defines Level II violations as resulting in “less than a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage.” It further calls them “systemic violations that do not amount to lack of institutional control.” Punishments are usually minor.

However, lying to investigators is thought of as a much more serious matter. A resolution between the NCAA and Harbaugh seemed distant a few months ago. During two meetings in January, the NCAA and Harbaugh held firm and refused to back down from their positions. The NCAA said the coach lied. The coach said he merely forgot otherwise insignificant actions. An impasse resulted.

All of it occurred during an eventful time for the football program. The Wolverines lost to TCU on New Year’s Eve in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff. It capped a 13-win season that saw the Wolverines win the Big Ten and defeat Ohio State for the second consecutive year.

Within days, Harbaugh’s name emerged again for various NFL head coaching openings, including the Denver Broncos, with whom he spoke. Then news broke of the NCAA infractions case and Harbaugh remained coy about returning to his alma mater for a ninth season.

Later in January, Harbaugh and the university stated he would be back for the 2023 season, but the looming NCAA case remained.