Harbaugh’s plan foiled by NCAA ban — for now

The NCAA ban does not apply to FCS schools, and Citadel coach Brent Thompson said he plans to continue holding football camps around the state. (V.L. Duffy/The Citadel Athletics)

The NCAA’s ban on satellite camps came down just in time to halt Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s latest planned incursion — into the state of South Carolina.

Harbaugh caused a kerfuffle in the world of college football with his so-called “satellite camp” in Alabama last summer, drawing more than 500 high school players to a one-day camp right in the heart of Nick Saban country. His “Summer Swarm” of nine camps around the South attracted about 6,500 players.

This summer, Harbaugh planned to invade South Carolina as well, combining with Wofford College for a satellite camp in June that would land him squarely in Clemson and South Carolina territory.

Just another reason for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney to join with Alabama’s Saban and most ACC and SEC coaches in opposing such camps. The NCAA’s Division I council moved last week to shut down satellite camps, ruling that FBS programs must conduct camps and clinics in their own facilities. The rule also prevents FBS coaches from working camps that are not on their own campuses.

The decision means Harbaugh and other Michigan coaches cannot work at the Wofford camp, effectively halting his attempted advance into Spartanburg — unless the ban is overturned by the NCAA Board of Directors on April 28.

“We’re still holding out hope,” said Wofford assistant coach Greg Gasparato, who runs the Terriers’ summer camp program.

The Wolverines/Terriers combo camp was initially Gasparato’s idea.

“I actually reached out to them,” Gasparato said. “I had taken note last year of all these teams traveling around, like Penn State and Michigan. So I contacted a guy I know up there to see if they were interested, and they said absolutely. They thought it was a great idea, and it was all going to work out. Now, we’re not sure.”

The ban on satellite camps has ignited controversy in college football over the last week, with Harbaugh ripping the ruling by saying “the incompetence of the NCAA has reared its ugly head yet again.”

Clemson’s Swinney is on record as opposing the camps, while South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said he was prepared to hold his own satellite camps had the ruling gone the other way.

“I’m against it,” Swinney said. “From a conference standpoint, we in the ACC and SEC, we’ve had rules against that for several years. I think it’s a loophole people are taking advantage of, and it’s something that needs to be addressed. I don’t think it’s a good thing because ultimately what happens is instead of having camps, you’re having combines. There’s enough of that.”

Before the NCAA ban, Muschamp said, “At the end of the day, we’re prepared to do what we need to do from a camp circuit standpoint. Once the vote comes down this week, we’re prepared to make the accommodations we need to to get the exposure we need with some student-athletes.”

Reaction across the football landscape has been similarly mixed, but momentum for overturning the ban — or at least amending the ruling — seems to be growing.

Steve LaPrad, coach at prospect-rich Fort Dorchester High School, said the ban will limit opportunities for high school players.

“In the past, they’ve had a camp in the Charlotte area and there would be three or four schools there,” said LaPrad. “That’s a plus not for the blue-chip kids, but for what I call the bubble kids. So I hate that for them, but I understand why the NCAA made that decision.

“I think it will hurt some of the kids’ recruiting, limit some of their chances.”

There is an online petition asking the NCAA to overturn the ban, and the Twitter hashtag “#ChangeNCAA” is picking up steam.

“I just do not think that the NCAA is going to hold this up,” Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, former president of the American Football Coaches Association, told ESPN Radio. “I think it will be voted back in and I think it will be business as usual.”

The ban’s impact in South Carolina is limited because of the landscape of college football in the Palmetto State. FBS schools Clemson and South Carolina were not holding satellite camps anyway, and the six FCS schools in the state — The Citadel, Charleston Southern, Wofford, Furman, Presbyterian and South Carolina State — are not affected by the ban.

Coastal Carolina is in the process of moving from the FCS to the FBS Sun Belt Conference, and it is those programs — in lower-tier FBS leagues such as the Sun Belt, Mid-American and Conference USA — that will be most impacted.

“For the FCS schools in our state, that rule does not change anything,” said Presbyterian coach Harold Nichols, who is on the AFCA’s FCS committee. “We can hold camps within the state, and we’re still allowed to go and work at a South Carolina camp, a Clemson camp, a Georgia camp.

“The rule has not changed for us, and it really affects the MAC, the Sun Belt and Conference USA more than anybody.”

The Citadel has held satellite camps of its own around the state and plans to do so again this summer.

“Last year, we held camps in Rock Hill, Spartanburg and Aiken,” said Citadel coach Brent Thompson. “It helps us spread out and maybe get into areas that we weren’t necessarily reaching — Charlotte, north Georgia, south Georgia. It was beneficial for us, an opportunity for us to get our brand in front of a lot more guys.

“The kids we want, their dream is to go to the big schools,” he said. “And those schools will get 600 campers at their camps. So we want to make it easier for kids to come to our camp and not give them any excuses as to why they can’t come to a Citadel camp.”

FCS coaches also will be able to continue working at Clemson and South Carolina camps, as they have done in the past.

“I’m going to encourage more of that for our guys,” said Thompson. “It’s another way to get eyes on players. Kids have hopes and dreams of going to an FBS school, but maybe in reality they are an FCS player. We want to make sure The Citadel brand is out there and have them think, ‘Man, these guys are everywhere.’ ”

Meanwhile, at Wofford, Gasparato waits for the NCAA Board of Directors’ ruling on April 28.

“This camp with Michigan would give us a chance to get as many quality athletes on campus as we could,” he said. “Everybody wants to go to the Michigans and South Carolinas of the world, and those are the camps they choose to go to. Maybe down the road they realize they are not going to play at a Power Five school, and we wanted to get a jump on those kids.

“And for Michigan, anytime you get a chance to come down South and work with kids, it helps. It gets their name out there more as a national brand. Even if you sign one kid from a satellite camp, it’s worth it.”

Whatever the fate of satellite camps, The Citadel’s Thompson said, college football will survive.

“We’ve always had to adapt to new rules,” he said. “And we’ll find some way of adapting to this one, too.”