“We were looking to provide our student-athletes with a great educational, cultural and international football experience,” Harbaugh said in a statement. “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 is also taking advantage of what could be his final chance to take his Wolverines on a spring road trip. On Friday, the Power Five conferences voted 58-22 to bar their schools from holding off-campus practices during periods when players were on academic breaks, but the measure does not take effect until August.
The new rule was ostensibly passed to give players more down time, but it was widely perceived at being aimed at Harbaugh, who raised hackles among Southeastern Conference and ACC coaches when he held some Michigan spring practices last year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Many viewed that as a brazen attempt to establish the Wolverines’ brand in fertile recruiting ground, and while the SEC voted 13-1 for the rule, Michigan was among three Big Ten schools that voted against it.
Michigan’s athletic director, Warde Manuel, had noted that the 15 student-athlete representatives from the Power Five schools voted 11-4 against the rule change, saying (via the AP), “The voice of the students I think spoke clearly that they would enjoy the opportunity to experience and be able to train off campus during their breaks.”
Of the Italy trip, Manuel said, “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.” Michigan did not provide exact dates for its trip to Italy, but said it would happen “after finals toward the end of winter semester in April.”
The announcement caused a stir online, with several observers taking some license with the idea of the trip.
“The study abroad and international internships will better prepare our student-athletes to compete in today’s global economy,” Harbaugh said. “We are committed to offering our students a broad experience that will prepare these young men for life after football.”