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Harbaugh Finds the Next Recruiting Frontier

Won't someone think of the children?

Is Jim Harbaugh "The dirtiest player in the game"?
Is Jim Harbaugh "The dirtiest player in the game"?
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Recruiting is a dirty business. It's one of those things that more you know about it, the less you can possibly like it. It is corrupt, amoral, completely out control... you name it.

But here's the thing. Every single person involved in recruiting know it's ridiculous and that we all need to curb our behavior. This system wasn't created by design, it was created because "everyone else is doing it." All it takes is for one guy to step over the imaginary line, and there's 100 coaches hot on his heels.

That's because programs will do just about anything for a competitive advantage. It's one thing to lose fair and square, it's another thing to lose because Team X outworked you. So as soon as Team X starts engaging in some recruiting behavior, other teams must follow suit just to cover their bases, regardless of whether the tactic is effective or not.

This is a long way of saying tat the NCAA rulebook isn't based on any sort of ethical code or anything, it's just the rules that we've slowly created in a reactive way to save ourselves from ourselves. Because let's face it, if there's a way to bend the rules (or outright break them), the SEC will find a way to do it.

Honestly, that's what makes Michigan deciding to hold part of its spring practice during spring break at IMG Academy. It's not that this is some horrible ethical or moral line that Harbaugh is crossing. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find any genuine outrage in SEC country.

No, it's odd because the Big Ten has always lagged behind the SEC on finding loopholes in recruiting rules. The standard method for recruiting techniques to change is that some SEC school, usually Alabama, does something technically legal but kind of icky. The, every other SEC school follows suit in order to keep up the pace. Then the Big Ten schools call the SEC immoral and ruiners of children, only to quietly engage in the very same practices a year or two later. Being morally right feels awesome, but not as awesome as winning.

So we're all kind of proud that Michigan is now pushing the envelope instead of the SEC. It's nice to mix up the formula which, frankly, had grown a bit stale. Not even cares about oversigning anymore.

No, the reaction among the SEC is one of sad resignation. It is the acknowledgment that we are going to have to start doing this crap, too. This is hardly a bridge too far, whether practicing off campus or during one of the few honest to God breaks college football players get on the calendar. If there's an advantage to be gained, someone will try and take it.

It's just that the advantage won't last for very long. IMG Academy, which is barely a school and more of a place for agents to scout out future clients, is a hot bed of football talent. Michigan is not going to be the only school practicing there in a year or two. There's recruits to be had, son.

The question I have to ask Michigan fans is whether this is the road they want to go down. Not that they are losing any sort of purity or ethical brownie points. That ship has long since sailed, and we're all in this muck together. No, I'm asking from a purely practical standpoint. Do you really want to engage in a war of questionable recruiting tactics against the SEC?

This our world, guys. Our bagmen have bagmen. We specialize in crossing that line that you thought we'd never cross, only to make it seem like the new normal in a year or so. We aren't outraged we're now going to turn spring practice into a chance to put the team on the road in order to appeal to the next big recruit. Les Miles and Nick Saban are booking practice fields right now, just in case. This isn't anger, this is resignation.

Oh well. Here's another crazy thing we've got to do now. In a few years, it won't even seem strange. And we'll all pretend to be outraged by something else.