BRONCOS

Could NCAA investigation drive Jim Harbaugh to the NFL — and perhaps the Broncos?

Jan 6, 2023, 12:26 AM | Updated: 12:31 am

Jim Harbaugh might have something else compelling him to the NFL: the specter of NCAA investigation.

Thursday night, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports reported that Michigan faces an NCAA investigation for potential rules violations during Harbaugh’s stewardship of the program. The potential violations included a charge leveled specifically at Harbaugh.

According to Wetzel, the NCAA will investigate Harbaugh for “failing to cooperate with investigators.” That is a Level I violation, per NCAA bylaws.

According to the NCAA, Level 1 violations are considered to be those that:

  • Seriously undermine or threaten the integrity of college sports;
  • Provide or are intended to provide a substantial recruiting, competitive or other advantage;
  • Are a substantial or extensive impermissible benefit.

Wetzel reported that Harbaugh’s violation was as follows:

Harbaugh misled NCAA investigators when confronted with questions about the Level II allegations. A Level I violation could lead to significant recruiting restrictions or even a suspension for a number of games.

According to The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach, the NCAA’s formal notice of allegations arrived in Ann Arbor on Thursday night.

The news of the NCAA circling came on the heels of the Michigan football Twitter account issuing a quote from Harbaugh that read in part:

As I stated in December, while no one knows that the future holds, I expect that I will be enthusiastically coaching Michigan in 2023.

NCAA investigations can take months or years to conduct. Therefore, the threat of punishment for Harbaugh and the Michigan program is a distant one. It would appear unlikely to affect the Wolverines’ 2023 season, in which they are expected to contend for the College Football Playoff once again.

However, there is a history of NFL coaches beating the posse out of town. In 2010, Pete Carroll left USC for the Seattle Seahawks not long after the NCAA punished his Trojans program. Twenty-eight years earlier, Ron Meyer departed SMU for the New England Patriots following one NCAA punishment and with others to follow, which eventually led to the NCAA issuing its first and only I-A/FBS level “death penalty” punishment to the Mustangs program in 1986.

The accusations against Michigan don’t appear to reach those levels. But they could still be enough to compel Harbaugh — who interviewed with the Minnesota Vikings last January — to look for an NFL landing spot.

To that end, author John U. Bacon — who has written multiple books about Michigan football and knows Harbaugh well — told sports-radio station WYRD-AM/FM in Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C. that Denver would be third on Harbaugh’s list among the currently vacant NFL jobs.

The Broncos have the wealthiest ownership group in the NFL. In theory, they can outbid anyone. But they also have residence in the AFC West and four games a year against teams led by Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.

But they might offer Harbaugh a golden parachute — and a chance to win a Super Bowl he has coveted for three-and-a-half decades, since his playing days.

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Could NCAA investigation drive Jim Harbaugh to the NFL — and perhaps the Broncos?