Michigan players were among the many current, former and past athletes to speak out last week against the vote to ban satellite camps this summer. Given their head coach and the program’s role in striking up the NCAA’s most recent controversy, their voices get a little more attention.
Returning All-Americans and team leaders Jake Butt and Jourdan Lewis were among the most outspoken of their teammates about the harm the new rule would inflict on smaller schools and high school prospects. The issues with the new rule are well-tilled earth by now. The players' desire to be the ones out front making those arguments, though, is another sign of how much has changed for the Wolverines in the past 16 months.
“We do have a voice,” Butt said on a teleconference last week. “We are -- the athletes are -- one of the driving forces that gets the NCAA to run. Sometimes I feel like we aren't heard as much as possible, especially with these satellite camps.”
Michigan’s program has grown in major ways since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach last January. The roster is bigger and more athletic. The offense is more dynamic. The expectations are higher. The most obvious changes for those tightly orbiting the program come in a more intangible form.
In the past, Michigan was a team that believed they were hard workers because they were told that’s what ‘Michigan men’ do. Now Michigan is a team that believes they are hard workers because they endured four hours practices while surrounded by a staff that views work as a reward. The byproduct is a different kind of confidence than what existed here in the past. Less often they speak in clichés, and more often they speak their minds.
Since much of that attitude has been adopted via osmosis from Harbaugh, it comes as no great surprise that their recent medium of choice has been Twitter.
— jake butt (@JBooty_88) April 12, 2016
We can't let the NCAA do this. Everybody get #ChangeNCAA trending. They think they're hurting Coach but they're really hurting the kids.
— Jourdan Lewis (@JourdanJD) April 10, 2016
Butt has tweeted about camps, spring practice in Florida and other more widespread NCAA issues in the past few months. He said the satellite camps struck a personal chord because many of his teammates had benefited from them, and the rule might have drawn those comments regardless of the culture shift in the locker room. He did acknowledge, though, that the players are learning to take their cues from Harbaugh and the example he sets by not shying away from a controversy.
“I think that's definitely part of it. Coach Harbaugh is our head coach and our leader so we're going to follow him,” Butt said. “…Like I said, we do have a voice, and we want to speak out and make these changes positive.”
Other Michigan players joined in. Quarterback Shane Morris, fullback Khalid Hill and more had similar messages. Tweets are hardly the only barometer to gauge a team’s confidence, and a pretty trivial one at that. They are, however, a smack-you-on-the-nose example of how fully this team has embraced the personality of its head coach and is starting to emulate him.
Harbaugh’s relentless competitiveness and perpetual enthusiasm have also seeped into the DNA of his players, but those transformations are harder to pin to concrete evidence. His willingness to challenge the status quo (and to do so on social media) is an easier benchmark to see.
Away from the field, it’s a good thing for college football to see many players from around the country realizing they have avenues to affect change and taking advantage of them. When it comes to success on the field, it’s a bright sign for Michigan that its leaders are growing louder and bolder than they have been in the recent past.