CHICAGO — Jim Harbaugh’s voice has rung loud and clear this offseason, both within the walls of the Michigan program and beyond. As he demonstrates in tweets aimed right at his biggest opponents, he might be the least afraid man in the college game to speak his mind.
Harbaugh is the voice of the Michigan program, but he’s not the only one. Whereas it could be easy for everyone else in maize and blue to fade into the background of a mostly close-quarters program, tight end Jake Butt chooses to stand in his own light.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound senior NFL prospect arrived at Big Ten Media Days coached up and respectful like any other football player stuffed into a suit for the annual kickoff, but he didn’t come just to spew clichés and talk about the pigskin. For an hour at a podium on Monday, the First-Team All-Big Ten tight end was open to opining on anything.
It started with satellite camps, a subject he once went on a tangent on during a Big Ten teleconference.
“I just questioned, ‘Who does it really benefit in this situation?’ ” Butt said of the temporary ban on camps, which the NCAA lifted in April. “I didn’t see it benefitting the student-athlete. The NCAA is big on saying they want to benefit the student-athlete. I didn’t see that, and I wanted to have some influence and help these kids who could use a satellite camp to get a scholarship offer.”
It continued with the labor that goes into playing college football.
“I don’t have a problem with how much time we’re spending in football. But at the same time, I want to recognize that if I wanted to be an engineer, I can’t be an engineer. There’s no way I could be an engineer,” he said. “If I wasn’t in football, I’d probably try to be an engineer. Some of the majors that you might want to be, you can’t really do that and play football at the same time.”
It even extended to his favorite video game, the now defunct “NCAA Football” series.
“They gave us like a couple hundred bucks for the game. I was like, ‘You can have that. Just let me get the game. I love that game,’” he said.
The “NCAA Football” series hasn’t released a game since 2013 as a result of the ongoing debate that riles up Butt the most, the argument over whether athletes should be paid. The NCAA has recently taken strides in providing players with more meals and offering full cost of attendance scholarships, but Butt believes much more could be done.
“You can’t use your platform, but if a musician goes in and he goes to a local clothing shop, he can get a shirt at a discounted price. Why can’t an athlete?” he said.
He’s written persuasive papers and essays on the subject, and his central argument goes back to the very reason he wanted to come talk to media in the first place.
He believes athletes should have a voice. It’s something he’s showcasing now as he prepares to be a leader on an experienced Michigan offense one season after he helped pace it with 654 yards and three touchdowns. And it’s a goal he hopes can extend beyond the football field.
“I’ve wondered down the line, once I’m out of the NCAA, if I could work with them to try to work something out a little bit,” he said, referring to pay for athletes. “In the summertime, we don’t have a lot of extra money to eat out or have some fun, so it’d be cool to have a voice maybe with that.”
“Mainly, it’s just trying to spread positivity.”