It’s a bad look. There’s no way around that, not when the kid had an offer in hand for two years and had no intention of looking at any other school.
How else are we supposed to consider Jim Harbaugh’s decision to rescind U-M’s scholarship offer to Erik Swenson? I mean, other than as a calculated and cold-blooded business decision.
But is this really surprising?
Everything Harbaugh does is calculated to build a championship football program. Whether it’s climbing trees or taking selfies on his way to a sleepover or ditching one recruit for the potential of someone better, it’s all part of the Harbaugh playbook, where he has a blitz package for every scenario.
Sure, it’s possible that Swenson, a four-star offensive lineman from Downers Grove, Ill., did something to give Harbaugh a reason.
It’s more likely, however, that Harbaugh — who took over for Brady Hoke, the coach who originally offered Swenson the scholarship — soured on Swenson’s potential. So he reneged, figuring he could do better, especially on the heels of a 10-win season, riding a wave of block “M” rebranding as more and more five-star kids begin to open their doors to the Wolverines for a listen.
Look, we don’t know why Harbaugh dumped Swenson just two weeks before National Signing Day. Or why Swenson said he didn’t find out until he called U-M. Or why Harbaugh wouldn’t take his call — the offensive line coach/offensive coordinator, Tim Drevno, actually informed Swenson.
In fact, we aren’t likely to ever get U-M’s side of this. NCAA rules prohibit Harbaugh or anyone on the staff from talking about recruits before signing day.
No one in the athletic department felt he or she could comment, either. I asked.
And since Swenson no longer is a recruit?
Well, we could be charitable and assume U-M had a legitimate reason. Or we could be realistic and say … welcome back to big-time college football, Michigan, we’ve missed you. But to stay here, you’re gonna have to take part in the more unsavory parts of the business.
Offering more kids scholarships than you have scholarships. Dropping kids you’ve already offered when more talented kids become available. Breaking your promise to 18-year-old kids because you can.
Yes, these same kids change their minds, too. Yet, here’s the thing: They’re kids. Harbaugh is an adult and, in this role, the spokesman for an institution that holds a moral authority — an institution, by the way, without a leader in the athletic department. Interim AD Jim Hackett is on his way out.
Someone with power over Harbaugh needed to ask him if jettisoning Swenson was worth the blowback. It’s possible Harbaugh would have convinced that person to let him yank the offer anyway.
Still, there would have been a conversation. As of now, Harbaugh’s on his own. For the most part, that has worked out better than U-M could have hoped.
He wins. He recruits. He cares about academics.
He’s also ruthless. If you doubt that, try telling a kid to whom you promised a scholarship he’s no longer welcome.
U-M isn’t the first school to do this. Nor is it the only school to do this. But whatever moral high ground its fan base enjoyed is gone.
The Wolverines are in the muck now. This is fine if you’re a fan of this school and you just want to win. Not so much, however, if you always thought of U-M as slightly above the fray. Because it’s not.
Dumping Swenson shortly before signing day shows us that. Winning is what matters. The business of college sports made sure of that, leaders and best be damned.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.