The rumors started to swirl over the weekend, and today the University of Michigan announced that Jim Harbaugh is following up last spring's trip to Florida for spring ball with a trip this year overseas to Rome.
The Detroit News was among the first to report the possibility of a second remote spring practice for the program in as many years.
In the release, the school notes that players will get a week "of learning and spring practice," and the university calls the trip an "extraordinary life experience."
From the release:
"Michigan Football will travel to Rome, Italy, after finals toward the end of winter semester in April for an extraordinary life experience during the spring practice season. The players and staff will use three of the allotted 15 spring football practices in Rome, training at AS Roma, the professional Italian football (soccer) club in the city.
During the trip to Rome, the Wolverines will be immersed in the culture of Italy. The team will visit historic landmarks, spend time with youth at orphanages, and visit deployed U.S. military in the country amongst other team activities. The experience will culminate with a youth clinic, and the team will play a scrimmage that will be open to the Italian public.
"Over the past few decades student-athletes in other sports have had the opportunity to participate in international training trips to practice and prepare for the upcoming season," said Warde Manuel, U-M's Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics. "This is a tremendous opportunity for these young men to learn about and experience another culture, connect with the people of Italy, and showcase American football internationally. The University of Michigan has always encouraged our students to gain knowledge through international experiences, and we are so glad to provide them with this opportunity."
"We were looking to provide our student-athletes with a great educational, cultural and international football experience," said Jim Harbaugh, U-M's J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Football Coach. "I am excited that our student-athletes will be able to take advantage of this amazing educational opportunity, be exposed to another culture, and be ambassadors for the United States and the University of Michigan during our visit to Rome."
Harbaugh will be the first do an abbreviated version with his guys, what the NCAA allows college basketball programs to do every four years with an overseas trip against international competition and a great experience abroad.
Last Friday, the NCAA announced that spring practices off school grounds are now banned, but it will not go into effect until the summer - leaving Harbaugh and Michigan a few short weeks to make one last spring trip to an exciting location for spring practices.
Last year's trip to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida for a few practices cost the Michigan program $348,553, according to an open records request back in May of last year. Considering the incredible buzz that it created around Harbaugh and the Wolverine program, I think most will agree that was money well spent.
The trip to Rome figures to much more expensive, and talking with coaches who have played in the Bahamas Bowl the past few seasons I've learned that preparing your team for travel outside the country is a huge undertaking, and then you add all the equipment that will be needed for both the players and the field once they get there to make everything seem as much like Ann Arbor as possible, and you've got a situation on your hands when it comes to getting through customs on the way there, and back.
The new NCAA rule banning schools from conducting "off-campus practices during a vacation period outside of the championship season" just means that Harbaugh and like-minded coaches will have to think even more outside the box to continue to do things like the IMG and Rome trips.
Who knows, maybe Michigan will build a campus in the Bahamas or some other exotic location by next spring, and Harbaugh can take kids down to practice on that campus for spring ball in 2018 because technically it would still be on-campus.