U-M President defends Harbaugh’s football recruiting ethics

When University of Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh’s staff allegedly let high school senior Erik Swenson know that the Wolverine football program was no longer into him, it might have been a crushing disappointment to Swenson. But such incidents aren’t an affront to the Ann Arbor school’s values or practices, according to U-M’s president.

In an interview this week with Bridge, his first on the subject, President Mark Schlissel offered a full-throated defense of Harbaugh and his ethics following a week in which the coach’s recruiting practices have come into question.

“I have a lot of confidence in Coach Harbaugh, and we’ve gotten to know each other quite well,” Schlissel said Wednesday. “And he looks me in the eye and says, ‘It’s no fun to win if you cheat.’ He’s very simple in that regard, and absolutely clear, and that’s one of the things that makes me think he’s going to be here for a long time and be very successful.”

In recent days, two verbal commitments to Michigan’s 2016 recruiting class ‒ Swensen, a commitment for two years, and Rashad Weaver ‒ said that after being offered a spot in the school’s recruiting class they were no longer part of U-M’s plans as National Signing Day approaches next Wednesday. Swensen spoke of receiving the silent treatment from U-M coaches in recent months before being pushed aside, presumably in favor of newer, more talented recruits.

“It is the negative, darker side of recruiting,” Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s national recruiting director, told Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski. “You have to make tough choices, and if you offer a kid you’re not sure you want to take, you have to deal with the ramifications” of dropping them when better recruits come along.

In his interview with Bridge, Schlissel defended the coach. Speaking generally of such recruiting controversies, he echoed an argument made by others defending the U-M program: that what’s being said and written in the media about high school recruits represents only one side of the story. He noted that Harbaugh and his staff are prevented from talking about recruits until after a player signs a letter of intent.

Schlissel also noted that there is a difference between a coaching staff making a verbal scholarship offer to a recruit and the decision by a school’s admissions office to accept that player into the freshman class.

“It’s only the University of Michigan that admits students and grants scholarships,” Schlissel said. “A coach can talk to a kid under NCAA rules a certain number of times, starting at a certain age. That’s not (the same as) being admitted to the University of Michigan."

Letters of intent are binding, but verbal commitments are not, and both player and coaches are free to vacate them before a letter of intent is signed, as many do.

The criticism follows a very successful first season for Harbaugh and his team and a fall recruiting class that is considered one of the best in the nation. It also comes amid change within U-M athletic department, with a new Athletic Director, Warde Manuel, being introduced.

Swenson, a highly regarded offensive tackle for Downers Grove South High School in suburban Chicago, appears to have been a victim of over-recruiting, where coaches make verbal commitments to more high school athletes than they can grant scholarships to under NCAA rules. It’s similar to overbooking a flight, only when boarding time comes, instead of athletes being given a voucher for another flight in exchange for giving up their promised seat, they’re told “I should reopen my recruitment and take other (college) visits,” as Swenson told the Chicago Tribune.

Swenson’s disappointment became public this month, more than two years after he’d committed to Michigan (although not initially to Harbaugh; he was recruited by then-coach Brady Hoke). He, and other players dropped later in the process, complain that with signing day Feb. 3, they have had limited time to find another top-tier school that would offer them an athletic scholarship.

Schlissel did not speak specifically about the Swenson case, saying he didn’t know the details, and didn’t want to violate NCAA rules. But he praised Harbaugh, and at the same time seemed content to leave the team’s business to the high-profile coach.

“The part of it that I’ve made my peace with,” he said, “is we don’t accept students to the University of Michigan, no matter how talented they are as an athlete, if we don’t think they can be successful here as a student, with the academic support that we can provide for them."

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Comments

Elliot
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 1:53pm
The kids are getting Harbaughed! Surprised that President Schlissel would be happy with the Leaders and Best sinking to the lowest standards in the country. At least with this approach Harbaugh will keep on beating OSU and MSU.
Roland
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 2:28pm
You are wrong with your assessment. Making a declarative comment without information is ignorant. Coach Harbaugh and AD Hackett have both made it clear that Swenson didn't work to be a recruit. No meritocracy. Be informed if you should be inclined to pass judgment.
Rick
Sat, 01/30/2016 - 9:54am
He hasn't beat them yet..l am just saying. Where is the integrity we have heard so much about?
Eric
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 2:35pm
Actually that is not oversigning. Oversigning of course involves actual signatures. The author has a common misperception. Oversigning involves SIGNING more athletes than you have room for and then having to force out other current members of a team, usually underperformers. This is employed by many schools mainly in the SEC and is rightly criticized in my opinion. It's important for the author and readers to understand what happened with Michigan IS NOT oversigning. Oversigning is much more agregous as it leaves a current player with little to no options and a tuition they may not be able to afford. Many schools including Michigan will pull scholarship offers for various reasons including academics, injury, and performance among other reasons. The difference is the uncoupling occurs prior to a SIGNED LOI. Hopefully the author will offer a correction to this significant error.
Nancy Derringer
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 2:37pm
Eric, Thanks for pointing this out. Another reader did as well, and David Zeman and I reworded the paragraph and changed the term to "over-recruiting." We rely on our smart readers to help us do our job better. -- ND.
Boze
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 2:41pm
Yeah those general studies degrees are one of the most respected in the country in preparation for getting a real degree
Eric
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 2:43pm
No problem, Thank you for correcting an otherwise excellent and informative article. Eric
Harv
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 2:47pm
There is a wide range of reasons why a verbal offer might be withdrawn. If there is a flaw in the system it is that a clear understanding of the tentative nature of a verbal offer is not always explained up front by those doing the recruiting. It is an NCAA issue which should be addressed, if only to remind institutional representatives (the coaching staff and beyond) of the very nature of the "verbal offer" of an athletic tender.
Doug
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 4:40pm
You can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig
George
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 6:20pm
Your comments sound like you went to school in Lansing
William C. Plumpe
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 4:49pm
If Swenson was recruited by Hoke two years ago and new coach Harbaugh looks at Swenson and either doesn't like him or finds a better prospect coach Harbaugh should be able to make his own choice and override Hoke's decision to verbally commit to Swenson. And as President Schlissel points out a verbal commitment is not binding. Recruits should not consider themselves potential players at a particular school until they have signed a letter of intent. And I am sure that they are or should be worldly wise enough to know this. If you are being recruited by a major university you aren't uninformed or naive---you should know the ropes and the ins and outs.
Jimmy H.
Mon, 02/01/2016 - 7:08pm
I agree, but think it would have been more humane to let the kid know a year ago rather than waiting until the last second. If the kid wasn't in the plan or couldn't make the grades/SAT, they certainly knew last year.
Wed, 02/03/2016 - 9:14pm
Therein is the problem. A verbal is not binding. In today's society our word means nothing. It better be in writing and notarized. What that means is that more than sports is a joke. Our whole society is a joke!
James
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 5:28pm
I totally stand behind coach Harbaugh, he knows what he's doing. Thank you for bringing pride, fun and excitement back to fall Saturdays. Keep up the great work. GO BLUE! Jim class of 88'
John Q. Public
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 7:48pm
Ha! Ha! She said "recruiting ethics."
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 9:31pm
Difference he with this kid is Harbaugh has had over a year to decide that this kid wouldn't fit his system. He waited until 2.5 weeks before National Signing Day to pull the offer. Now other programs might have filled their allotment for his position and the kid is left with no options. It's shady and Harbaugh will pay for it because the HS coaches (who hold a lot of sway in who talks to their players) in and around he Chicagoland Area will remember what was done. Sad because normally this kind of treatment is reserved for SEC schools.
Anita
Sat, 01/30/2016 - 11:40am
Harbaugh and Schlissel can't comment on the kid, but there is enough information out in the public that the coach asked things of Swenson that Swenson didn't do. Maybe that told Harbaugh everything he needed to know about the kid's work ethic. And don't worry about Swenson, he has other offers out there and took an official visit to Oklahoma this week. He'll be just fine. Recruiting is a sordid game all the way around. I don't see any criticism of the players who "commit" to one program, then change their minds 4 days before signing day, like the offensive lineman who was committed to Michigan since last June and just announced today that he is going to sign with Stanford. If you people criticizing Harbaugh for pulling Swenson's offer 2 weeks before NLOI day were at all consistent, you'd be criticizing this kid, too. Everybody on both sides, the recruiters and the recruitees, knows the drill, it's all a risk until a kid signs the letter of intent.
Brado
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 11:50pm
Did the Prez. offer any comments on the propriety of Harbaugh having "sleepovers" with high school recruits?
ArtZ
Sat, 01/30/2016 - 9:57am
The President remarks reminds me of politician avoiding basic question ................ Schlissel .... noted that there is a difference between a coaching staff making a verbal scholarship offer to a recruit and the decision by a school’s admissions office to accept that player into the freshman class. and then ............ The part of it that I’ve made my peace with,” he said, “is we don’t accept students to the University of Michigan, no matter how talented they are as an athlete, if we don’t think they can be successful here as a student, with the academic support that we can provide for them.” To my reading the recruit is saying .............. the question was based upon Swenson’s disappointment became public this month, more than two years after he’d committed to Michigan (although not initially to Harbaugh; he was recruited by then-coach Brady Hoke). ......... the date of withdrawal is the question and the President ignores the basis for the interview ................. the remaining window of signing day Feb. 3, limiting the time to find another top-tier school that would offer them an athletic scholarship ! I would think the University of Michigan would have more honesty than the other programs.
John S.
Sat, 01/30/2016 - 11:22am
I suppose verbal commitments are worth the paper that they are printed on. Ethically, a "verbal commitment" of the kind here should be accompanied by a verbal warning from the coach or coaching staff that the recruit may be dropped for various reasons and that only a written commitment is binding. These are athletes and from an early age know that some will make the team, some will not.
William C. Plumpe
Sun, 01/31/2016 - 8:51am
As I have commented these "kids" aren't that naive and should know the ropes. If they're not aware of what's going on they better learn fast because they'll get burned otherwise. And as another comment noted it's not only coaches who appear to lack ethics. Players will wait until the last minute to decommit too so if coaches have to follow the rules so do players.
Jimmy H.
Mon, 02/01/2016 - 7:11pm
15 year-olds are so naive...
Sun, 01/31/2016 - 7:52pm
Just more of the standard lies, deception, and crime to come out of the UM...football kicker rape, child porn possession by Mott Childrens' Hospital resident, thefts of intellectual property, contract kickbacks, transfer of critical defense technology to the ChiComs, etc. UM certainly sets the gold standard for forbidden behavior and its concealment by public authorities. It is time for the electorate to put their representatives on the Board of Regents who are concerned about the education of Michigan children. PhD, 1971, UM, AsE Retired, Prof, 2007, UM, AsE
Phil
Wed, 02/03/2016 - 3:41pm
I wonder how many times we're going to see in the headlines: "U-M President defends [name of academic department head] scholarship [department] ethics"