The Wolverine

Sept 2023

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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66 THE WOLVERINE ❱ SEPTEMBER 2023 A s teams go, the 2023 Michigan squad has as much promise as per- haps any we've covered in the last two decades. There's star power, depth and — as head coach Jim Harbaugh likes to pro- mote — incredible culture and leadership. Harbaugh has the program right where many thought it would be when he was hired nine years ago, even if it took a little longer than expected to get there. Young, hungry tal- ent is waiting in the wings while learning from the older guys, just the way it was under Harbaugh's m e n to r B o S c h e m b e c h l e r, through to Lloyd Carr and now to Harbaugh. But the future … well, it's never guaranteed, no matter how strong the foundation. And un- less Michigan's donors answer the bell, the success Harbaugh and his staff have enjoyed — winning at the highest levels — won't last. Yes, that might seem alarmist to some, especially with how strong the program is now. But the Wolverines are losing recruits they shouldn't be to schools they otherwise wouldn't have for one reason — Michigan NIL isn't yet where it needs to be. It's trending in the right direction, but to compete with the "pay for play" and "by any means necessary" programs, they need to up their game. On a positive note, the program re- cently partnered with the Champions Circle collective in an official capacity, removing one potential obstacle — con- fusion. There were four or five options heading into the year, but Harbaugh and the program are now making it clear where they want donors to put their money. Former Wolverine Jared Wangler, one of the Champions Circle founders, is pleased with the recent progress. "Things have really been moving in a very positive direction, especially over the last three or four months," Wangler told us this summer. "There's been more interest from donors, from corporate partners … and obviously, it's bleeding over into recruiting, which is awesome. "I feel like the coaches are on really good footing now with NIL, knowing how and what to communicate to these kids. It feels like the pitch is landing more so than it was around this time last year, when we really weren't sure what to say when asked about it." The players have been extremely re- ceptive, Wangler added, and "great to work with." There's a lot of positive mo- mentum stemming from it — recruits talk, of course — and the official launch of the Champions Circle website has made it easier for more donors to get involved. Now, Wangler said, it's about getting the word out on what the collective has been doing for the last year and a half and how people can get involved. For the coaches, it's twofold. Harbaugh has led the charge in trying to line up donors, but he also has to convince recruits that "M Power," the name they came up with for the endeavor, will work for them. Part of that is showing how cur- rent players are benefiting. "The pitch and communica- tion is about what's taking place for the current roster — what kind of opportunities players have at any position, what sort of deals are taking place," Wangler said. "And the earning targets for those guys are comparable to what you're seeing around the country, which is awesome. "If you share info about where your starting quarterback, run- ning back, right tackle are … that sells. Not only that, but you're also actually able to show them tangibly how it's done versus around the country, where you're seeing at other schools their pitch to start was just telling them a number. The kids have no idea where the number comes from or how it's even NIL." For many of them, though, it doesn't have to be. They're just go- ing to go to the highest bidder, or on a promise. That makes it more important to 1) get the message across that there are ways to make significant money at Michigan and 2) that there's money in the pot. You can't have the first without the second, though, and that's where things need to improve. Wangler and Co. have a strong message — they just need more support. "Now, we just have an understand- ing of how it actually works," Wangler said. "A year ago, many were asking where the money was going, if they were throwing it into a fund … what does it do? What are the kids around the country really getting paid — is any- thing real?" It's real at Michigan — we've seen and heard it for ourselves. More need to start contributing, however, to make it spec- tacular and worthy of the "Leaders and Best." ❏ Chris Balas has been with The Wolverine since 1997. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on X @ Balas _ Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN ❱ CHRIS BALAS Time Is Now For Donors To Step Up The Champions Circle NIL collective, which led the way with the 'One More Year' fund that helped retain players like Blake Corum for this season, is stepping up its efforts to support the U-M football pro- gram now that it is an official partner of Michigan athletics. PHOTO BY DOMINICK SOKOTOFF

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