Michigan's Jim Harbaugh questions some depression-based transfer claims

Nick Baumgardner
Detroit Free Press

CHICAGO — Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh explained his stance on the transfer process more than once during his interview at Big Ten media days in Chicago on Friday. 

Harbaugh believes all transfers should be allowed to leave a school with instant eligibility — no matter what — one time. If the player transfers a second time, he believes they should sit out a season. 

He made further comments about the matter during a radio interview with ESPNU on Friday, questioning whether or not some student-athletes are using conditions such as mental health as a non-truthful reason to gain instant eligibility after a transfer. 

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh speaks during the Big Ten media days on Friday, July 19, 2019, in Chicago.

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“It’s something that’s really evolved in my mind," Harbaugh said about the transfer process. "Where we’re at right now is in a limbo period, in my opinion. The NCAA decides who is eligible immediately. Who has to sit out a year in residence. It used to be you could sit out a year (and then) be eligible. Now we see guys get eligible immediately. It’s not really clear on what makes someone eligible immediately and what doesn’t. I don’t like the gray area of that. I think it cleans it up of saying ‘everyone has one year where they could be immediately eligible.’ If you do it a second time, that’s getting a little hippity-hoppity. … It’s a litigious society we live in right now as you know. This whole process has already gotten lawyers involved. Lawyers who are specializing in this right now. 

“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. 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.'

"Say what they’ve got to say. But down the road I don’t see that helping them if it’s not a legitimate thing. But nobody would know. But what are you going to say? Ten years down the road ‘I just had to say what I had to say?’ And I think you’re putting them in a position that’s unfair, not right. And, as you said, you’re saying it just to say it. And that’s not truthful. That’s not necessarily truthful. It’s not something we should be promoting at the college level. Telling the truth matters. Especially at a college.

"You can’t have experiments that aren’t truthful. You can’t lie about equations. Shouldn’t be lying in football. That’s a message that we should be teaching. I got a little long-winded there. But I think that would help all concerned." 

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After Harbaugh made his initial statements during the radio interview, he came back to the question to say he cares deeply about mental health issues. 

“And can I add, please don’t write a bunch of letters," he said. "I care very deeply about mental health. I’m not saying everybody’s lying about that. Just saying ‘OK, this is America. You started at this school, you didn’t like it and for whatever the reason is, you’re freely allowed to transfer to any other school like any other human being would have a right to do.’ That’s really the bottom line.”

Former Michigan offensive lineman James Hudson transferred to Cincinnati last year and petitioned for an instant eligibility waiver. That waiver claim was ultimately denied by the NCAA in May. Hudson said he was told by the NCAA his claim was denied because he never told administrators at Michigan about his depression. 

Harbaugh did not mention Hudson by name in Friday's radio interview. 

He was asked two questions earlier in the day about any role he has in the process of transfers becoming eligible at another school. Both times he said he has no say in whether or not a player is granted immediate eligibility. 

"To be clear, as a coach, I don’t have any say in that. Not any involvement. The compliance departments talk. They’ve talked to each other through statements and counter-statements and statements. The NCAA decides. But as a coach, I’m not involved in it.”

On Saturday, Harbaugh took to Twitter with a further comment on his transfer belief. 

“In response to some who say I am deflecting and dodging or pushing an agenda, they could not be more wrong. Rather I am choosing to be forthright and transparent," Harbaugh wrote via his Twitter account. "As asked multiple times yesterday (Friday) at Big Ten Media Day, I offered an opinion. My belief is that a one-time transfer should be allowed for all student-athletes. I am clearly advocating for rights that college football players have not had. This would be the decision totally in the hands of the student-athlete and family and would protect all from disclosing information and rights afforded under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and FERPA (Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act).”

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Contact Nick Baumgardner at nbaumgardn@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.