The biggest recruiting story of the last two years finally reached a legislative solution, and on paper, it seems the Big Ten lost. The NCAA Division I Council voted to prohibit schools from holding satellite camps (camp away from their campuses), a practice multiple Big Ten programs, most famously Michigan, had taken to using recently. The Big Ten was the only P5 conference to vote to continue the camps, as an effort publicly led by the SEC and ACC won 10-5.
A 10-5 vote meant that plenty of other conferences joined the SEC and ACC in voting down camps. The Big 12, Pac-12, Mountain West and Sun Belt also voted to end the practice, even though on paper, that doesn't make sense. Mike Leach of Washington State said that most Pac-12 coaches actually supported satellite camps.
The Sun Belt's explanation for voting to end the practice couldn't be more vague. When I asked the Mountain West Conference why it's representative voted against what appeared to be their best interests, I was told, "The Mountain West's vote on NCAA Proposal No. 59 reflected the majority position of our member institutions and of our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee". Again, not a stirring defense.
Non-power conferences used satellite camps at bigger programs as important evaluation tools, and almost certainly got more value from them than bigger programs do, but multiple leagues voted against their own interests. Why?
The most likely explanation appears to be that many of the individuals voting on this legislation didn't really understand the issue or its consequences. They did, however, seem to understand that they really didn't like what Harbaugh and Michigan was doing, and voted against that.
On some level, that's understandable. Michigan wasn't the first big program to run satellite camps (Penn State under James Franklin did this first), but they're the first program to make such a big dang deal of it, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars parading around the entire country, drawing as much attention as possible, and then getting into Twitter spats with other coaches. SEC and ACC coaches might have opposed the entire production primarily out of self interest, but it isn't hard to see other, less-impacted administrators looking at the entire spectacle and deciding "nah, we don't need that."
This entire event essentially became a referendum on Jim Harbaugh. So it isn't a surprise that the Big Ten lost, and now there are ugly, unintended consequences.
A popular person to blame for this legislative failure is Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. On some level, that's fair, as Delany didn't make nearly as full throated of a defense, especially not in public, of camps. Given that the SEC and ACC were unified, and public in the declarations of their view, maybe that passivity hurt the Big Ten's legislative cause.
But Delany was also in a tough spot. Unlike other conferences, there wasn't the same consensus among Big Ten programs about camps. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, after all, wanted to ban outside coaches at camps, just like the SEC. Was Delany empowered to go to the mattresses over this without the full support of his membership? Would it have looked like he was favoring Michigan? I get the feeling this wasn't something every Big Ten program was truly willing to go to war over.
While Delany needs to play a role in situations like these, it's also up to Big Ten coaches and administrators to advocate for their own interests. If the rest of the college football world is going to take adverse legislative action to get back at Michigan, then Michigan needs to fight to rectify those misconceptions. That's a job for Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel and other administrators. It's a job for other Big Ten coaches. And it's also a job for Harbaugh.
There's nothing wrong with a major program trying to hold satellite camps, even in "SEC territory", in my view. But Michigan's aggressive use "NCAA loophole exploitation" as a recruiting strategy, especially in such a public and flagrant manner, has legislative consequences if the Big Ten doesn't have the votes or the support to back it up (which it seems that they don't right now). It seems that Michigan, and really, the Big Ten, would benefit if there was somebody who could tell Harbaugh, "look man, can you just be cool for like, five minutes?"
It's unfortunate, because this stupid pissing match not only unquestionably hurts student athletes, it's also completely avoidable. There are plenty of potential compromises that could pass legislative muster that could work for everybody. You could disallow only power conference coaches from attending camps elsewhere. You could allow a limited number of Power 5 camps a year, or during a very specific window, so coaches can still have planned vacations or family time. You could limit the money spent. There are lots of possible ways to make a deal.
There's potential time to fix this, or to advocate for other rule changes that could help the Big Ten. Perhaps Urban Meyer can be the one with the credibility to advocate for them. Maybe it might be Jim Phillips and Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern. But when the fact of your program is doing this and this, it might hurt your ability to win legislative floor fights.
The funny thing about all of this, of course, is that Michigan doesn't really need the camps. Without the aid of a cross country tour, and with a coach far less able than Harbaugh, the Wolverines signed the No. 4 ranked class in 2013. They signed the No. 6 class in 2012. Given the talent on their staff, and the financial, historical and brand resources at their disposal, Michigan is going to be fine, no matter what kinds of barriers the rest of the sport tries to throw in their way.
But at the end of the day, all of this has created a policy that hurts not just multiple Big Ten institutions, but student-athletes generally. And there's plenty of blame to go around.