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Opinion: Jim Harbaugh’s lack of suspension is huge for 2023, but could cause problems beyond

There are repercussions that could come down the road.

Big Ten Football Media Days Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The four-game suspension Jim Harbaugh was have this season is now reportedly off, and it doesn’t make any sense.

The initial report came from Yahoo Sports, but was then confirmed by Pete Thamel of ESPN with the caveat that the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions did not approve the deal.

This means one of two puzzling things. Either Harbaugh’s camp leaked the original report of a four-game suspension in late July, hoping it would help move the deal in their favor to just four games. This one seems highly unlikely.

Option two seems more likely, and the NCAA continues to look like a room full of dunces. Someone from their side probably leaked the news to a reporter back in July — conveniently right before Big Ten Media Day — just for their own Committee of Infractions to block the deal a month later, meaning their irrational pursuit of Harbaugh is going to continue into 2024. It’s an extremely petty use of power after some other schools had much more severe penalties that came to light this summer.

For the time being, it appears Harbaugh will be on the sidelines for the entire 2023 season, even though his “status to start the 2023 season or any suspension has yet to be determined,” per Thamel.

With the snail's pace the NCAA works at, you’d have to think there’s a good chance Harbaugh will be on the field for every game of the most important season of his career in Ann Arbor. But at the same time, there is concern for the long-term for Harbaugh and the program.

He’s dug his heels in the ground and has drawn a line in the sand with the NCAA. Very few times have people gone up against the tyrannical oligarchy and won. There seems to be real animosity between Harbaugh and the NCAA. If the four-game suspension wasn’t enough for the NCAA to accept, it probably means they are coming for even more.

On top of everything else that has happened over the past few years, it could be the breaking point for Harbaugh going back to the NFL. He has had conversations the last two offseasons with NFL franchises; if he is to serve a suspension in 2024, it could be the kick in the butt needed to finally pull the trigger if he finds the right situation. It makes even more sense because many contributors in 2023 are anticipated to enter the NFL Draft, and the fact Harbaugh believes he has four assistant coaches who “will be head coaches” after 2024. Finally, we all know about the pay cut Harbaugh took after the 2020 season and his desire to have a new contract, which still has yet to be signed.

Right now, Harbaugh has every right to feel under-appreciated and unfairly criminalized by the NCAA with a 2024 season of monumental changes afoot. While it’s a resounding win for the Wolverines to have him for all of 2023, the cost of what could come in 2024 is undoubtedly looming large.