For the second straight April, Michigan will conclude its spring preparation in Europe. The Wolverines are visiting France to close out the month, coach Jim Harbaugh announced in February, a junket focused on Paris and Normandy.
Last year, Michigan wrapped up spring practices with three days of drills in Rome, a journey that saw them attend an opera, train as gladiators, visit the Colosseum and take a VIP tour of Vatican City. Harbaugh received a personal audience with Pope Francis, to whom he presented a Wolverines football helmet and a customized pair of Michigan Jumpmans.
But given the 8-5 season and recruiting disappointments that came in the months after that historic visit, some Wolverines fans are asking if the style part of the Harbaugh equation is starting outweigh the substance. Former Michigan and NFL running back Chris Howard and Land of 10 writer-columnist Sean Keeler are wondering the same thing …
Q: ARE THESE EUROPEAN TOURS STARTING TO DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD FOR MICHIGAN FOOTBALL AND JIM HARBAUGH?
SEAN KEELER: YES
Jealous? Damn straight, they’re jealous of Michigan. A free trip to Europe — even a working trip?
Most college kids would run through Hell in a gasoline suit, as Pete Rose liked to say, to punch that ticket. Adult staff members would make that run twice over.
THE OTHER SIDE: Chris Howard says Jim Harbaugh has made Michigan relevant again
It’s a lifetime experience, a broadening of the mind and perspective, the very essence of the educational mission. Why read about the course of western culture when you can walk the streets of old Roma, the corridors of the Colosseum and the halls of St. Peter’s Basilica, and breathe all that history in for yourself?
Ain’t no envy like papal envy.
— Business Insider (@businessinsider) April 26, 2017
You sell that picture, brother.
You put it on the front of the brochure.
You make sure every player, every parent, every guardian, every coach knows it comes standard with the package.
But also know that this is going on the front of the other guys’ handouts:
And, also, this:
What did Pope Francis say to Jim Harbaugh? pic.twitter.com/xZvTM5wkUi
— ⚠️ #SpartanHumor ⚠️ (@MSUHumor) April 26, 2017
You’re selling SkyMiles.
They’re selling trophies.
Now none of this is to say the players don’t deserve breaks. Or rewards. The Wolverines’ very special travel episodes are like The Brady Bunch’s very special travel episodes: So long as the sugar daddies keep writing the checks, you’d be a fool not to keep the passport and suitcase with arm’s reach.
If you’re not educating the world on Michigan football, you’re at least educating Michigan football on the world.
We don’t know that the 2016 spring break in Florida can be directly attributed to the fizzle at the end of the season that came after it. It ain’t Papa Francesco’s fault that Wilton Speight got hurt. It wasn’t opera that turned the 2017 campaign into a darkly comic farce. Even if the bills are insanely large, the sample size is still too small.
And yet, those optics, man.
Michigan AD is 240 million dollars in debt, taking their entire football team to France after an 8-5 season, and paying Jim Harbaugh 9 million a year
— Or what (@JuiceBrennar) February 12, 2018
During bowl season?
— Jason R (@jjr2525) July 25, 2017
There’s a time and a place for sizzle. Michigan football needed a kick up the backside on every front three years ago. Harbaugh was given a blank check and a wide berth to let his passions and imagination run absolutely wild. The Big Ten is better, and infinitely more interesting, because he’s in it.
You can’t put a price on that.
But there’s also a time for steak. And every loss to Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio is like throwing red meat at the national talking heads, the pundits only too giddy to kick Harbaugh right between the jewels when he’s down.
If 1-5 against the Buckeyes and Spartans becomes 1-6 or 1-7, all these European jaunts are going to start coming off like gold-plated commodes. Pretty, yes — but are they really necessary?
Of course they’re jealous. Every last one of them. Michigan players will never forget their springs. But if Wolverines fans keep wanting to forget the autumns that follow, what’s the point?
Conquering Paris is great. Conquering Columbus is better.