Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff were on the road early Friday. It was the first day NCAA recruiting rules allowed them to make contact with prospective athletes following a four-week dead period and they weren’t about to waste time.
Michigan signed 16 players to its 2018 class of freshmen in December during the newly instituted early signing period. It has three more players committed to becoming Wolverines on National Signing Day on Feb. 7, and those aren’t the only new scholarship players Harbaugh wants to add to the roster for 2018.
Hitting the trail for 36 HOURS OF 'CROOTIN MAYHEM!!!
"BEST" Coast to "BEAST" Coast, CA to FL! BIG FELLA TO BIG FELLA!
✈️ ✈️ 🌴🌴🌴🌞🌊
— Matt Dudek (@Thee_Matty_D) January 12, 2018
There’s one problem: The NCAA limit for Division I football scholarships is 85 per team, and according to an unofficial count by Land of 10, the Wolverines already have 86 scholarships accounted for in 2018.
This situation is nothing new to Michigan or any other program in the country. It’s an annual occurrence that teams face as they shape their rosters not only for the coming season, but also for two, three and four years down the road.
The NCAA requires teams to be at the 85-scholarship limit by the first day of preseason practice. How teams get there is usually handled out of the public eye.
Players transfer. They could be asked to take a medical hardship, which keeps them on scholarship for school but doesn’t count against the 85. Being a senior with a fifth year of eligibility doesn’t guarantee a player he’ll get to use it.
Michigan had 84 players on scholarship at the end of the 2017 season by Land of 10’s unofficial count.
Let’s break down what’s happened to the roster for 2018:
Graduated seniors (10)
QB John O’Korn, RB Ty Isaac, FB Henry Poggi, FB Khalid Hill, RB Joe Hewett, OT Mason Cole, C Patrick Kugler, DT Maurice Hurst, LB Mike McCray, LB Mike Wroblewski.
Transfers we know (5)
QB Wilton Speight, QB Alex Malzone, WR Maurice Ways, WR Drake Harris, OT Ja’Raymond Hall.
That’s 15 scholarship players off the roster, taking the 2018 number to 69. Add back the 16 players signed in December, plus transfer quarterback Shea Patterson, and that brings Michigan to 86 scholarship players for 2018.
Eligible fifth-year seniors (8)
FB Jared Wangler, TE Ian Bunting, OT Juwann Bushell-Beatty, DE Chase Winovich, DT Bryan Mone, DT Leonard Marshall, LB Noah Furbush, CB Brandon Watson.
Class of 2015 (seniors or redshirt juniors)
RB Karan Higdon, WR Grant Perry, TE Tyrone Wheatley Jr., TE Zach Gentry, OT Grant Newsome, OT Nolan Ulizio, OL Jon Runyan Jr., DE Reuben Jones, S Tyree Kinnel, S Jordan Glasgow.
Division I college athletics is a business. That Michigan is still looking to sign more players to its 2018 recruiting class, even though it is already over 85 scholarships, means some of the players mentioned above — or others from the 2016 and 2017 classes — won’t be back with the team next season for one reason or another.
Cornerback Keith Washington was expected to be a contributor in 2017 but told coaches in August he was planning to transfer for a different opportunity. Wide receiver Nate Johnson was dismissed from the team in October following an assault charge that turned into a guilty plea and jail time.
Remember last April 15 when Harbaugh and Michigan didn’t release a roster for the spring game? That lack of a roster lingered into preseason camp until the official list of players was released three days prior to the Sept. 2 season opener against Florida. The reasons given were that several (non-scholarship) players were still trying out for the team, but the lack of a roster also could allow the team to keep out of sight players who no longer were with the program for one reason or another.
Harbaugh loves the term “meritocracy” when describing position battles. It’s the same philosophy for roster spots, and one worth keeping an eye on the coming months.