It must have been Kirby Smart’s turn on the ‘SEC Coaching Tilt-O-Meter,’ in terms of calling attention to the animated, media-friendly exploits of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.
A few days ago, while speaking to the Macon Touchdown Club, Smart — who should already know that guest-speaker luncheons are seldom shrouded in secrecy — reportedly lobbed a rational, but ominous shot at Harbaugh’s tactic of moving some of Michigan’s springtime practices … to a Spring Break locale in sunny Florida (Bradenton, coincidentally the home of an IMG Academy).
“(The Wolverines are) obviously trying to gain a competitive advantage, and that’s their right,” said Smart, who took over the UGA program in December and served as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator at Alabama the previous eight seasons (2008-15). “But I think the NCAA, in due time, will have to step in.
“You’ve gotta think about recruiting rules: How (is Michigan) going to handle those, is it an advantage, disadvantage? Are they gonna let other coaches come to it, are they gonna hold open practices? Do we all come in there and watch them and scout them?
“If they’re all open practices why don’t we go and watch them? It’s a Pandora’s Box of what it’s going to get into, obviously.”
Smart’s speculative salvo found its way to Harbaugh … who returned in kind, via Twitter (below):
If the Georgia coach is implying any intent on our part to break rules, he is barking up the wrong tree.
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) February 24, 2016
Let’s address Smart’s comments in two parts:
1) Would the NCAA be in the right to require Michigan to make off-campus practices open to the general public — including curious coaches from opposing programs?
Remember when the Washington Redskins wanted to charge their fans for attending training camp practices a decade ago? Well, by doing that, other NFL teams were subsequently permitted to view every second of Washington workouts — at least until team owner Daniel Snyder had a change of heart on the money-making venture.
Does that ostensibly apply to Michigan’s Florida-based work vacation? Not really. Provided the Wolverines don’t stand to earn one direct dollar of revenue from the venture.
2) If you asked 100 college football coaches to describe their concept of a full Pandora’s Box unleashing, you’d likely draw 100 different responses of what’s shocking/what’s tepid, what’s damning/what’s tolerable, what’s acceptable and what’s out of bounds.
In other words, does Smart really want every dirty little secret from the college game to be revealed, precedent-wise, just because a northern football team aspires to conduct a week’s worth of practices in warm, sunny weather?
It’s the military equivalent of threatening to bomb a rival country … after being taunted on Twitter. Come on.
After all, don’t baseball teams from the Midwest and East Coast migrate to the southern states during the winter months, in anticipation of a full college season?
And for college basketball every year, doesn’t it seem like Kentucky or Kansas or Duke or Michigan State or Syracuse travel to Europe during the fall (Germany, France, England, Spain) for a round of NCAA-approved practices and games — under the guise of establishing hoops goodwill among doting nations?
As a native northerner, frankly, I’m shocked it took this long for a Big Ten coach to flout convention with southern-based recruits, and by extension, angering coaches from SEC and ACC schools.
It's an amazing opportunity for the S.A. – ACC teams may have experienced such trips. How is football traveling to Bradenton so different?
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) February 20, 2016
Without a doubt, Harbaugh has brought new energy to the task of rankling SEC coaches and administrators. He even harangued Paul Finebaum into crossing the line which separates sports and politics on sports-talk radio … by hailing Harbaugh as the ‘Donald Trump of College Football.’
But this isn’t professional wrestling, one of Harbaugh’s favorite pastimes. In that sport, the protagonist and so-called ‘heel’ typically follow-up a round of insults and five-minute taunts with an imminent battle inside The Squared Circle.
In the world of big-time college football, though, arranged fights among non-conference, non-traditional powers are harder to schedule — especially at the apex of a war of words.
For example, Michigan and UGA have no preliminary plans to meet over the next 10 regular seasons. In fact, the Bulldogs haven’t played a game above the Mason-Dixon Line … since making the trek to Ann Arbor, Mich. in 1965.
In fairness to both, the Wolverines will open up the 2017, 2018 and 2019 campaigns against SEC foes Florida and Arkansas (twice); and the Bulldogs will break the Mason-Dixon Line streak … by traveling to Notre Dame in 2017.
But alas, this Smart-Harbaugh dustup just doesn’t have the legs to move the proverbial meter for a while. It’s likely something to tide us over … until another SEC coach finds fault with The Harbaugh Way.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.