The last Ohio State head coach to lose to Michigan and the current Michigan head coach who has never beaten Ohio State have found themselves entangled in a very public beef that, ostensibly, has absolutely nothing to do with The Game.
The very extended backstory, for those unaware:
After James Hudson transferred from Michigan to Cincinnati late last year, the offensive lineman cited “mental struggles” that arose at U-M as the basis for his appeal for an immediate-eligibility waiver that was denied by the NCAA, a denial that was in very large part based on Hudson never speaking up about the mental health issues while at U-M. That could’ve been the end of it… except Jim Harbaugh decided to weigh in during the Big Ten Media Days on mental health claims by transfers seeking waivers through the NCAA.
“And the other piece that bothers me about it is, the youngster that says ‘this is a mental health issue, I’m suffering from depression.’ Or that’s a reason to get eligible,” the Wolverines head coach said in July. “And once that’s known that ‘hey, say this or say that’ to get eligible. The problem I see in that is you’re going to have guys that are ‘OK, yeah, I’m depressed.'”
The intimation that some transfers lie about mental health issues didn’t sit well with either the offensive lineman’s mother or his new head football coach Luke Fickell, with the latter very passionately stating in a very well-done piece that appeared in The Athletic this week that U-M could’ve gone to bat for its former player in the appeals process but chose not to.
“Here’s what I believe in the whole waiver process: the number one, most important thing, and all the power, comes from the school that a kid is leaving. No matter what,” Fickell told website. “(Michigan) didn’t back the waiver. They can say what they want to say, but the only thing they said that was positive was that if the NCAA chooses to make (Hudson) eligible, then they would accept it — that they didn’t have an angle. They are just trying to cover their ass. And I’m really, completely disappointed in it. …
“All the power is in the hands of the school a player is leaving. If they want to help, they can help them become eligible. … They can say they didn’t undermine it, but they didn’t work to help the kid out. ”
Tuesday night, Harbaugh fired back at his fellow head coach. From mlive.com:
Unless I’m reading them wrong or mistaken, I believe [Fickell’s] under the impression that these waivers are decided coach-to-coach in some kind of deal fashion. That is not the understanding I’m under. I’m under the understanding that the NCAA decides these waivers.
“Unless he has something that he has and can bring forth and share, enlighten us and the entire football world, I would really like to know what that is. …
“And I told him, ‘Coach, I believe in telling the truth. Forthright, honest. What I told James, what I tell you, what I tell compliance is going to be the truth. I read the article. He asked the question in the article: ‘What’s most important, your personal beliefs or what’s in the best interest of the kid?’ And I can answer that: What’s most important is the truth.
“I’m astounded that he’s gotten to where he’s at by not knowing the answer to that question.
Bottom line? Harbaugh and the U-M football program could’ve done something above and beyond to help Hudson in the waiver process but chose to do the absolute bare minimum, which is absolutely their right.
Juxtapose that, though, with Ohio State supporting and actively assisting Blue Smith‘s appeal for immediate eligibility at Cincinnati even as the wide receiver will potentially, after being granted a waiver, face his former team this coming season as the Buckeyes and Bearcats will square off in Week 2 of the 2019 campaign. And then there was Alabama earlier this offseason supporting a run-off waiver for Kyriq McDonald, who was granted an immediate-eligibility waiver months after transferring from the Crimson Tide to the Bearcats.
“What Alabama did, what Ohio State did, they didn’t have to,” Fickell said in The Athletic piece.
There’s one way to handle these situations and there’s another way a classy program wouldn’t. There is a right way and a petty way to do it. Here’s to guessing that prospects on the recruiting trail, with the aid of rival coaches, will figure out which is which.