The Michigan Wolverines are getting their passports ready. In news that is perhaps not so coincidentally announced just days after a ban on spring break practice trips was voted into the rule book, the University of Michigan has announced it will be sending its entire football program to Rome later this spring.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh teased the idea of taking his team to Rome to conduct spring football practice drills after learning the NCAA Division 1 Council voted in favor of a ban on trips taking place over days off on the school’s academic calendar during the semester in order to conduct workouts or practices. Harbaugh ignited a national debate over the subject last spring when Michigan headed south to Bradenton, Florida to run spring football practices at IMG Academy during Michigan’s spring break. With the new ban set to go into effect starting later this year, Michigan put will spit in the face of its critics by taking the team to Italy for a “week of education and spring drills.” The trip would still have been allowed during the academic year this year as the ban has not gone into effect, bu Michigan announced this trip will come just after the winter semester ends at Michigan, making it perfectly legal for a similar trip in the future unless the NCAA cracks down once again.
Harbaugh has stopped at nothing to do whatever he can to add value to the Michigan football program, and a free school-paid trip to Rome certainly raises the bar. Michigan is giving its players what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for its players (and maybe coaches and assistants and trainers and so on), but it will not come at a cheap price. To turn a phrase from Jurassic Park, Michigan is sparing no expense to make being a Wolverine the most unique experience that can be enjoyed in college football.
If you can afford it, then feel free to do it
The University of Michigan has a lot of cash in the bank. The athletic department at Michigan is regularly among the most expensive to run given the costs associated with running and maintaining the entire athletics department, including football. In the 2014-15 fiscal year, Michigan spent $151.1 million on athletics, but it also brought in $152.4 million in revenue. When you have so much money coming into the program and are looking for ways to invest it as much right back in the program as you can, you find ways to maximize the benefits and perks of playing for the football program as you can in order to keep the momentum of the program moving forward.
This is what Harbaugh has been fortunate to have in Ann arbor. Michigan knew that signing Harbaugh to one of the ost lucrative contracts in the game was only the start to help take Michigan to the top of the Big Ten and return to national prominence the way it expects. Investing in the program to stay ahead of the curve is what can separate Michigan from some of its peers, which is why I applauded Harbaugh’s decision to go crazy with satellite camps and take his team down to Florida for spring football practices during the school’s spring break a year ago.
I cannot imagine Michigan will be taking its entire football program abroad every year, because that is mighty expensive even for a school like Michigan. And while the leadership in place now may not include the likes of a guy who would not pay to send the marching band to Arlington for a season-opening game against Alabama a few years back, the recurring cost of taking an entire football program across the Atlantic Ocean is likely to draw some concern even among the most rabid Michigan supporters.
But if you have the money to make it happen, then go for it.
Does this open the door for others to follow?
As much as programs take notes from other programs and find ways to implement ideas being used elsewhere into their own program (like what Houston is doing with their stadium lights), I am not quite sure this is going to become the norm for college football programs moving forward. For starters, it is just wildly expensive and not every program has the funding Michigan has available to them. It’s not even a guarantee Michigan will end up doing something like this every year due to the expected expenses on an annual basis.
There is only a small handful of schools that will be capable of even contemplating a trip of this magnitude. A trip to Rome or anywhere else in Europe may be a reach, but it would not be a shock to see some other programs organize a trip to some rewarding vacation spot. But are we going to start seeing schools ship their entire football program abroad every year? Not a chance.