Michigan has set the trend in motion and now will other schools make plans to have part of spring practice halfway around the World. It is a trip that quite frankly is out of the framework of most even Power Five athletic budgets.
It was Sunday morning and I was sipping on my second cup of coffee, so I know I was wide awake, and there is ESPN's favorite bald Alabama and SEC mouthpiece in Paul Finebaum and he is complimenting Michigan and their head coach Jim Harbaugh for taking his team on the trip of a lifetime to complete spring football in Rome, Italy. Yes, Finebaum giving Harbaugh credit for doing the right thing for his football team and being a guiding light for all of college football. This is the same Jim Harbaugh that Finebaum has repeatedly criticized, even called him names. Now, Finebaum is saying no NCAA administrator or school academician could in his right mind criticize this trip to Rome for the entire Wolverines football team. Finebaum called it the right thing to do and pointed out that college students often get trips abroad for credit. He also called it the best recruiting advantage ever.
Okay, I agree with that. What inner-city high school football star that has never as much been on a plane ride or rural football star that rarely gets to a major metropolitan area in this country, much less one of the most historic and beautiful cities on the planet wouldn't want to go to Michigan and take a trip to Rome or next spring to South Africa or Japan? Now, to combat the Wolverines version of Expedia what happens when Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy or Minnesota's P.J. Fleck ask for the budget to take their team halfway around the World? How about Larry Fedora at North Carolina wanting to take his team to Australia for spring football, where they are actually enjoying August-like weather? It might be okay if Fedora were Roy Williams and you are talking about a basketball size team, but how about close to 170 players, coaches, trainers, doctors, managers, and support personnel?
Forget Oklahoma State, you can fill in the blank with virtually any athletic director outside of Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, Texas A&M, Florida, Alabama, and LSU and any of them would pass out or at least buckle at the knees.
The fact is Michigan with its' $154.8-million athletic budget in place still found a donor that wrote a check for the trip. That is all well and good, but our estimate of anywhere between $3,400 and a low of $1,500 cost per person of an eight-day trip to Rome all expenses included is still a hefty cost. I was conservative and took an average of $2,200 per person. Remember, you are feeding close to 100 football players. Let's be conservative and say you take 160 people total on the trip and the cost is $352,000. That doesn't sound like much, but in balancing an athletic department budget and justifying one of your teams taking a trip abroad not to compete, but to sightsee and practice, that is a big amount. Remember, I was very conservative and cheap. It's likely at least a half-million dollar excursion.
The Oklahoma State women's basketball team is going to Australia this summer to play several games and yes, sightsee. They raised funding for that trip.
I agree with Finebaum in that I think it is an excellent way to educate, to team bond, and to excite recruits. The question is with the rising cost of college athletics and the competitive imbalance between even teams within Power Five conferences, much less between the Power Five and the Group of Five will the NCAA allow the rich and fiscally unencumbered schools to make these kind of jet set field trips or will they rein in the Michigan's from contributing to tourism abroad.
I hope the NCAA leaves it be. I like the idea. I see the work that football players put in. Golf teams go all over, at least a number of them do. Oklahoma State plays in Hawaii and Mexico (Cabo). The tennis teams make it to La Jolla and San Diego, Calf. and to Florida (Palm Beach and Sarasota). Basketball teams will go to places like Mexico, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and The Bahamas.
I can see a rule similar to basketball, where football teams can take a trip abroad every three-or-four years, so players have a chance to make at least one of those. That would bring the cost down some, but why shouldn't football players be able to study abroad. Chalk it up to cost of attendance. In the end, they need to make it more reasonable or cut it out completely. After seeing the video postcards from Michigan's trip, I'd hate to see it cut out completely.