Why Gus Malzahn and the SEC Shouldn't Worry About Jim Harbaugh's Satellite Camps

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterApril 1, 2015

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan's new head football coach, addresses the media after after he was introduced during an NCAA college football news conference Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

Dating back to his playing days in the NFL, Jim Harbaugh has a history as an agitator.

Unsurprisingly, it hasn't taken long for the new Michigan head coach to grab the attention of his colleagues since returning to the college ranks.

It hasn't just been at Ohio State, where Harbaugh has seemingly poked Urban Meyer with an apparent subtweet and by extending a plethora of scholarship offers in the Buckeye State in his first three months on the job.

Without having even coached in his first spring game with the Wolverines, Harbaugh's grasp has already extended to the South, where coaches in the Southeastern Conference have taken notice of Michigan's latest recruiting tactics.

Most notably, it's been Harbaugh's planned use of satellite camps that's caused a stir in the SEC, a loophole that was originally exposed a year ago by Penn State head coach James Franklin.

With the Big Ten coaches—unlike those in the SEC—allowed to serve as guest coaches at camps more than 50 miles away from their respective campuses, Franklin set up shop at Stetson University in Florida and Georgia State, hoping to extend the Nittany Lions' recruiting footprint into the South.

Harbaugh is not only following suit, but kicking it up a notch, with reports that Michigan will help host camps in Alabama, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas and California this summer. Understandably protective of his recruiting territory—and unable to take advantage of the same strategy—Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said on Tuesday that he's against the Wolverines being able to host satellite camps.

"I think the SEC coaches last year made it clear that we'd like it to be that way throughout the country," Malzahn said of the camp restrictions placed on his conference, via James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser. "That was a stance after our last spring meetings, and I still feel the same."

Gus Malzahn said he's not happy with the Big Ten's ability to set up satellite camps.
Gus Malzahn said he's not happy with the Big Ten's ability to set up satellite camps.Butch Dill/Associated Press

Malzahn's comments aren't dissimilar to what SEC coaches were saying a year ago, when Franklin's plans to help host camps in the South were first revealed.

It shouldn't come as surprise that coaches would be worried about Franklin—who coached in the SEC for three seasons at Vanderbilt—coming into their territory and setting up shop, especially when they aren't afforded the same opportunity.

But the results from Penn State's first satellite camp circuit didn't prove proportionate to the outrage that preceded it.

In fact, of the 25 signees in the Nittany Lions' 2015 class, not one hailed from Georgia or Florida. Outside of Robert Windsor from Wisconsin and Tommy Stevens from Indiana, all of Penn State's newest players came from its traditional eastern recruiting pipeline in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

"The satellite camps were big as far as branding, and getting the national brand of Penn State out," Nittany Lions offensive recruiting coordinator and receivers coach Josh Gattis said, via Greg Pickel of PennLive.com.

"It's probably at a point right now where we have yet to gain the benefit of those trips, and a lot of recruiting to be done in the future, but it was more about spreading the brand of Penn State football."

Perhaps there's validity in Gattis' argument—that it's necessary to build a brand somewhere first before reaping the recruiting benefits that could come along with doing so. But while Franklin will never say it publicly, it's hard to imagine the Penn State staff wasn't disappointed that their satellite efforts didn't result in a single commitment.

A change in Franklin's strategy moving forward would indicate as much, as the Nittany Lions will still host satellite camps this summer, but at different locations than a year ago. According to The Virginian-Pilot, the Penn State staff will help host a camp at Old Dominion in Virginia on June 18, indicating that Franklin has opted to keep his recruiting efforts closer to home.

James Franklin hosted satellite camps in Florida and Georgia last year.
James Franklin hosted satellite camps in Florida and Georgia last year.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Of course, there are differences between Michigan's situation this year and the Nittany Lions' a year ago.

For one, Harbaugh is already a more recognized name than Franklin was last year, due to a combination of his NFL career, his successful coaching stint at Stanford and his four-year tenure as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger celebrity in college football at the moment than Harbaugh, who has made headlines almost daily with his new Twitter account.

Michigan also already has more of a national recruiting base than Penn State, and Harbaugh's satellite schedule shows more ambition in terms of both number of camps and locations across the country. Harbaugh could prove to be a better recruiter than his new Big Ten rival, and he could end up implementing their shared outside-the-box strategy more successfully.

But if Penn State proved anything with its surge into the South a year ago, it's that it's going to take more than just a couple of on-site camps to do any sort of damage on the recruiting trail. Most importantly, the Wolverines are going to have to become winners again before the nation's top players truly consider turning their attention to Ann Arbor.

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.