‘Not a cheeseburger’ comment suggests the NCAA is hellbent on hitting Jim Harbaugh hard

On Saturday, Yahoo Sports reported that a “negotiated resolution” between the NCAA and Jim Harbaugh had broken down.

Per the agreement, Harbaugh was going to be suspended for the first four games of Michigan’s 2023 season after the NCAA alleged he was not forthcoming with investigators (a so-called Level I violation) when questioned about lesser Level II violations.

The deal between Michigan/Harbaugh and the NCAA’s enforcement staff still needed to be approved by a three-person panel made up from the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions (COI). They declined.

Now the case is likely headed to a full hearing, probably in 2024. Unless Michigan self-imposes a suspension on its coach, Harbaugh is expected to be on the sideline for the entire Wolverine season.

Anyway, after the news broke, Michigan issued the following statement.

“We are unable to comment as this is still an ongoing case.”

Meanwhile, Harbaugh said nothing publicly and his attorney, Tom Mars, stated “at this time, we are not allowed to comment on possible penalties or other aspects of the matter.”

The NCAA, however, did send out a statement, and it was a doozy.

“The Michigan infractions case is related to impermissible on and off-campus recruiting during the COVID-19 dead period and impermissible coaching activities — not a cheeseburger,” NCAA vice president Derrick Crawford said. “… The COI may also reject an [negotiated resolution] if it determines that the agreement is not in the best interests of the Association or the penalties are not reasonable …”

The statement went on, but the fact there was a statement at all was the news. Michigan can’t comment and Harbaugh can’t comment but … the NCAA can comment?

“Pursuant to the NCAA’s internal operating procedures, and under threat of penalties, Michigan, the involved coaches, and their lawyers are prohibited from uttering a word about this ongoing case,” Mars wrote on social media after the NCAA statement was released.

“Yet the NCAA can issue a public statement putting its spin on the case?” Mars continued. “Unreal.”

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh speaks during an NCAA college football news conference at the Big Ten Conference media days at Lucas Oil Stadium, Thursday, July 27, 2023, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

As it stands, Jim Harbaugh will be on the sideline for every Michigan game this season. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

The NCAA statement was, indeed, so unreal that it didn’t seem real. And yet it was.

The case is not only unresolved, but the NCAA hasn’t even delivered an actual Notice of Allegations (sort of an indictment) to Michigan officially charging anyone with anything. Yet an NCAA vice president decided to list some of the allegations against Harbaugh … yet didn’t mention they were “alleged.” Crawford simply presented them as facts.

Since the NCAA’s negotiated resolution process is limited to the enforcement staff (sort of the prosecutors) and Michigan/Harbaugh (the defense), the details of the case are supposed to remain unknown to the Committee on Infractions (the jury) until the hearing (trial).

Yet the NCAA has a VP issuing a statement?

And yes, you can roll your eyes at this faux justice system and think it’s ridiculous. However, remember, no one is as obsessed with rules and procedures as the NCAA. Crawford’s statement potentially violated at least two of the NCAA’s own bylaws — 5.16.1 and 19.3.1 (we’ll spare you the details). The NCAA is supposed to serve as a fair arbitrator of its agreed upon rules. This was unusual.

It gets worse, of course. Crawford mentions — in the opening salvo — that the core of the case is “not a cheeseburger.”

This is a clapback to a Michigan fan rallying cry that the entire saga is trumped up and the most egregious thing Harbaugh and his assistants were alleged to do was buy some recruits a cheeseburger at an Ann Arbor eatery. It’s been repeated on social media and message boards as a sign of NCAA incompetence in catching more egregious cheaters.

Crawford is correct. The case is not about a cheeseburger; it’s about Harbaugh allegedly being mistruthful with investigators. If he’s guilty, then NCAA rules — which Harbaugh has agreed to adhere to — say he should be punished at least six games.

And the rules he violated are legit. Every sports league — NFL, NBA, etc. — has statutes on when you can work out players, bring in potential free agents or what is allowable at practices. This may not be a major case, but this is not a “nothing” case, either.

The thing is, Harbaugh has never come out and publicly argued that this was just about a “cheeseburger.” Neither has Michigan nor anyone associated with the case in any official capacity. They’ve stuck to “no comment.”

The NCAA is arguing with message board posters.

“Not a cheeseburger” suggests the NCAA is so embarrassed by the dragging it receives online, that it is hellbent on hitting Harbaugh even harder than its own enforcement staff thought was acceptable.

How can anyone, let alone Jim Harbaugh, take this seriously or expect a fair process?

Presumably, Harbaugh violated some rules and is in line for some level of punishment, but that hasn’t yet been proven. A kangaroo court, meanwhile, is a kangaroo court, and the NCAA has signaled, quite publicly, that a kangaroo court is exactly what awaits him.

No, this isn’t about a cheeseburger. After Saturday’s NCAA statement, it’s clearly much bigger than that.

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