Michigan NCAA violation, explained: What Jim Harbaugh’s Level 1 infraction means in 2020 recruiting case

Jim Harbaugh can’t stop getting into the headlines for the wrong reasons. 

As No. 1 Michigan gets prepared to face No. 4 Alabama in the Rose Bowl, the head coach continues to feel the wrath of his prior mishaps. 

The Detroit Press’ Angelique Chengelis reported that Michigan has received its Notice of Allegations from the NCAA in relation to the alleged 2020 recruiting violations by Harbaugh. It was reported earlier in the year that Harbaugh could be facing a Level 1 violation, the worst kind of punishment someone can receive from the NCAA, and it was confirmed that he is in fact facing a Level 1 infraction. 

The 2020 recruiting violations were why Harbaugh missed the first three games of the 2023 football season. While the NCAA had not completed its investigation into the alleged incident, the school elected to impose a three-game ban for the head coach, causing him to miss the start of the season. 

Here is what fans need to know about a Level 1 violation in the NCAA and why Harbaugh is facing discipline:

MORE: Jim Harbaugh’s timeline of trouble

What is a Level 1 NCAA violation?

According to the NCAA bylaws, a Level 1 NCAA violation is the most serious infraction that can occur. Here is how Rule 19.1.2 reads:

A Level I violation is a violation that seriously undermines or threatens the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model, as set forth in the bylaws, including any violation that provides or is intended to provide a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage, or a substantial or extensive impermissible benefit

There are a number of examples as to why a Level 1 violation may be handed out. In Harbuagh’s case, the NCAA is alleging that he was “providing false or misleading information” during the investigation into the recruiting violations. This goes against the bylaw, which in the subsection, states that a Level 1 violation will occur when an individual is “providing or attempting to influence others to provide false or misleading information, regardless of whether the underlying institutional violations are considered Level I.”

What did Jim Harbaugh do?

Harbaugh had found himself in trouble at other spots, but before 2020, the Michigan coach had kept a clean record during his time with the Wolverines. 

Then the “cheeseburger” incident occurred. 

It was not until years later that Harbaugh was accused of having met with recruits during the COVID-19 recruiting dead period in 2020. The NCAA reportedly found a receipt for cheeseburgers from The Brown Jug, a restaurant in Ann Arbor. The league alleged that the meal was between Harbuagh and a couple of recruits.

At the time, coaches were prohibited from recruiting, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While that was an issue in the eyes of the NCAA, it was not what caused the Level 1 violation. It was reported that Harbaugh “wasn’t completely honest” when the NCAA confronted him about the receipts, which is what led to a more severe punishment from the organization. 

MORE: Harbaugh reportedly tied to Bears, Panthers coaching jobs in NFL

The NCAA and Michigan had reportedly agreed to a four-game suspension for the head coach, however, the NCAA ended up rejecting the plan and stated that the investigation was ongoing. With the change in direction from the governing body, Michigan decided to self-impose a three-game ban for Harbaugh at the beginning of this college football season. 

“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,” Derrick Crawford, NCAA vice president of hearing operations, said in the statement. “It is not uncommon for the [committee on infractions] to seek clarification on key facts prior to accepting. The COI may also reject an NR [negotiated resolution] if it determines that the agreement is not in the best interests of the Association or the penalties are not reasonable.

“If the involved parties cannot resolve a case through the negotiated resolution process, it may proceed to a hearing, but the committee believes cooperation is the best avenue to quickly resolve issues.”

Despite the school implementing its own suspension for Harbaugh, he still could face harsher punishment from the NCAA from the 2020 incident, especially since it is confirmed he is facing a Level 1 violation.  

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