EDITORIAL: Jim Harbaugh should be applauded, Rome trip exemplifies ‘The Michigan Difference’

NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.

It was recently announced that Jim Harbaugh will take the Michigan Wolverines football team on a Spring practice trip to Rome. The trip will happen this April ahead of a new NCAA ban on off-site practices while school is not in session. This ban was spearheaded by a vote from representatives of the Power 5 conferences who took exception to Harbaugh taking the Wolverines to Florida last Spring.
Michigan defensive standout Jourdan Lewis seems to think it’s just another one of Harbaugh’s quirks:
“It’s another Coach Harbaugh antic,” cornerback Jourdan Lewis said Tuesday at the Senior Bowl. “That’s what he loves to do. That’s his personality. If he can do anything to make himself — the brand, I guess — more proven than anybody, then he’s going to do that.”
It’s not hard to find evidence of Harbaugh elevating the brand of the University of Michigan or creating news in the sports world. Lewis is correct that Harbaugh is dedicated to Michigan. I believe this trip is about more than exposure.
The idea of a remote practice venue is not a new one. In fact, it’s very common in the business world and educational realm to sequester as a unit to a different location for focused work. Companies take retreats all the time to work on leadership skills and training. Marching band camp is a tradition with a rich history. Any band director will tell you a “captive audience” is key to getting the most accomplished.
Taking a trip as a group can also be an incredible recruiting tool. My years as a public school music teacher taught me that band and choir members looked forward to annual trips. It was a badge of honor and a popular reason to be involved in the activity. It certainly increased the number of students participating in music.
Recruiting and retention were definitely desired outcomes of annual travel. Yet, the trips had a deeper, more important, motivation. As an educator, I believed it was my duty to expose my students to cultures and experiences outside of their normal, everyday encounters.
By traveling with the music department, a small town, mid-Michigan high school student had the opportunity to see a musical like West Side Story live and in person in Chicago, Illinois.
When I taught in Downriver Detroit, I realized that most of my students had never been to the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Fisher Theater, or the Detroit Opera House even though they lived roughly ten miles away. It was very important to me to open up these different avenues of rich cultural expression to my students.
This is why the University of Michigan football team’s trip to Rome is so important. While the Spring trip to Florida last year was primarily a recruiting tool, Harbaugh’s new initiative to travel to Rome is a step up.
The fact is, even in this global society, few of us are privileged enough to travel internationally. College students are sometimes offered the opportunity to study abroad. However, that is a large time commitment and varsity athletes may have other responsibilities that tie them to the main campus.
That’s what makes this trip so special. One could view it as Harbaugh thumbing his nose at the college football establishment that cried foul when he scheduled satellite camps and Spring practice trips for his team. Some think that the trip is exclusively about recruiting.
I won’t deny that those elements are plausible or even probable. But, the trip is about more than only those small elements. This is bigger than recruiting. It’s more important than football. This is about life and personal growth.
Jim Harbaugh, aside from being a world-class football coach, is also an educator. He believes that his job is about more than winning championships.
Here’s an excerpt from the University press release about the upcoming trip.
“The study abroad and international internships will better prepare our student-athletes to compete in today’s global economy,” Harbaugh said in the school’s release. “We are committed to offering our students a broad experience that will prepare these young men for life after football.”
While I can’t relate to Harbaugh in terms of his depth of knowledge about football, I can definitely see where he’s coming from as an educator. This trip will provide a rich and broad life experience to the players and other coaches. One that cannot be replicated in any other way.
Ann Arbor is a wonderful place to go to school, but, there are things about Rome that can only be understood by actually being there. I should know — I’ve traveled to Rome.
I’m happy that Harbaugh is taking this trip. Not so much for the recruitment or the message it may send to the NCAA, but, for the educational opportunity.
This is one of the things that separates an education at Michigan from other schools. This is one of the reasons it is such an honor to receive a scholarship offer from the University. The richness and diversity of the Ann Arbor campus is one of the best in academia. So is Michigan’s budget. It would be very difficult to do this at many other schools. Harbaugh, to his credit, is capitalizing on those resources. That is The Michigan Difference.