The Wolverine

2022 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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160 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2022 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY CHRIS BALAS T he college football terrain is chang- ing — and has been for the last 15 or so years — sometimes so rapidly that it's unrecognizable from one year to the next. For those who aren't aware or think "all is well" — well, trust us. The landscap- ers responsible will get to the rocks you've been living under, too, before long. For certain, "The Team, The Team, The Team" is still, and always will be important. Bo Schembechler's early '80s mantra re- mains constant in that respect. But his "you'll never play for a team again. You'll play for a contract"… that's where it's starting to get sketchy, because the line between amateurism and professional- ism is so blurry now. So much so, in fact, that it's tough to know where one starts and the other ends. Pay for play has been college football's seedy underbelly for decades now, but more and more kids are looking to "the bag, the bag, the bag" — and now, it's (kind of) le- gal. It's still supposed to be against the rules to pay for play, but it didn't take long be- fore the usual suspects familiar with skirting rules found loopholes. Only they didn't limit it to the seniors. Rumors surfaced this spring of a quarterback out west who was offered a ridiculous pack- age as a prep junior. A week later, it wasn't rumor anymore. Nico Iamaleava committed to Tennessee in the SEC before his senior year of high school. The reported (albeit unconfirmed) booty — a cool $8 million. "I hear a lot about it," Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I just don't know how much is real — is it accurate or a fish tale story? I don't know." It's real, Coach. And it's not so spectacular for programs like Michigan that have been better than most in trying to follow the rules. It used to be the occasional oil tycoon or renegade booster club would surface to make their school the flash in the pan. Now, any idiot with a used car lot or subprime mort- gage operation can get in the game, and it's made even regional schools more attractive. To be clear, Harbaugh and his staff have embraced it, too — at least the concept of it. At the same time, they're still trying to figure out the sweet spot between giving recruits their share, and — as Harbaugh might say — the meritocracy of it all. Why should a recruit that's never played a down make more than an offensive tackle, etc., who has started for a few years and helped win a Big Ten title, for example? "I always have been for student-athletes being able to profit off name, image and likeness. It makes sense, right?" Harbaugh said. "The sale of a jersey, for example. Who should profit? … The actual person whose jersey it is or the institution? "I think we can all agree — something that is fair and right." But that's small potatoes compared to the money being thrown around. "I don't know how much that I have an opinion on that," Harbaugh added. "Right or wrong, our philosophy on coming to the University of Michigan is it's going to be a transformational experience rather than a transactional experience." Which is wonderful in theory and abso- lutely noble. It's what you'd expect of a coach like Harbaugh at a place like Michi- gan, and it's rubbed off on his kids. "NIL is bringing out a lot of selfishness in our world," grad student punter Brad Rob- bins wrote. "Driving a Ferrari and looking for the next bag of [cash] is all temporary. Impacting communities and giving back lasts for generations. "Be the person you'd look up to as a kid." More and more, though, that person is someone in the spotlight who makes a load of cash for a stupid "talent" online or has taken a bag to play. Now, before we ask you to get off our lawn, realize that there is hope. Pay for play creates its own problems, as Schembechler once predicted it would in his autobiogra- phy. Boosters who shell out the dough want their kids to play and feel it's their "right" to be involved, and there have already been stories of discontent among players (and their "sponsors") at some of these schools bragging of $20 to $30 million recruiting "budgets." Harbaugh is the guy you want navigating these waters, having been on both sides of it. And he'll absolutely fight for his play- ers to "get theirs," especially when they've earned it. Expect some bumps on the recruiting trail in the short run, though, while they figure it out. In the long run, Michigan will be Michi- gan — too proud to bow, too big to fail. Count on it. ❏ INSIDE MICHIGAN CHRIS BALAS Chris Balas has been with The Wolverine since 1997. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. Coach Jim Harbaugh said he always has been for players to profit off NIL, but that coming to Michigan "is going to be a transformational experience rather than a transactional experience." PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL In Search Of The Sweet Spot

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