SportsMonday Column: A land without (much) Harbaugh talk

Sunday, February 14, 2016 - 4:21pm

NORTH CAMPUS — Man, it seems like everyone is talking about Jim Harbaugh these days.

He was in the news Tuesday because the Southeastern Conference was upset with him, then again on Wednesday because he struck back and subtweeted — yes, subtweeted — the SEC. He made some more headlines later when ESPN radio host Paul Finebaum compared him to Donald Trump, and Harbaugh garnered even more face time by playing in a pro-am golf tournament this weekend in California.

But up until this point, the oft-repeated refrain that everyone is always talking about Jim Harbaugh has gone largely untested. Sure, his sideline tirades dominated Facebook and Twitter news feeds during the season, and drunk kids at Michigan have a tendency to yell his catchphrase, “Who’s got it better than us?” But nobody has ever really figured out if the world actually revolves around Jim Harbaugh.

Friday, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Since the Daily — no matter how often I asked — refused to send me to Mt. Everest to see if they were talking about Harbaugh there, I went to the second-most isolated place on Earth: Michigan’s North Campus.

North Campus, for those of you unfamiliar with the area, is a full 10-minute bus ride from Central Campus. For freshmen, living all the way up there is a social death sentence. They are forced to spend weekends upon weekends sleeping on dorm-room futons on Central Campus so they can go out with their friends at night without having to worry about making the last bus back to their dorms. I made a friend during the first week of freshman year who lived on North Campus ... I haven’t seen him since.

For older students, going up to North Campus is often an exercise in frustration. They must endure long waits in freezing temperatures for Michigan’s buses, which run on time about as often as a football team botches a punt to lose to its in-state rival.

A bunch of smart kids supposedly hang out on North Campus (trust me, I wouldn’t know), and a ton of engineering and computer science courses meet up there. Most of us Average Joes, however, never venture up to North Campus. Before Friday, I hadn’t stepped foot on North Campus soil since my freshman orientation in June 2012. But since it’s my last semester in Ann Arbor, I decided it was time to venture into unknown territory with enthusiasm very known to mankind.

I didn’t realize how big of a risk I was taking by going to North Campus until I had been on the bus for a few minutes and took a good look around. It was nearly full, and not a single person was wearing one of those Carhartt Players’ Tribune hats from Harbaugh’s Signing with the Stars event. I know, it seems preposterous, but apparently not a single one of the kids on the bus skipped class on a Wednesday morning to celebrate 17-year-olds making their college choices. That was a real wake-up call. You can’t even go 10 minutes without seeing one of those hats on Central Campus these days.

Even more alarming, I didn’t hear the word “Harbaugh” uttered once the entire bus ride. From what I could gather, it seemed like these kids were more concerned with things like “homework” and “midterms” than Jim Harbaugh. Weirdos.

My first stop on my North Campus journey was at the Bob and Betty Beyster Building (they really like alliteration up there). It’s apparently where all of the computer programmers study, and it’s probably the nicest building I’ve seen in Ann Arbor (apologies to the Stephen M. Ross School of Business).

I saw a couple of friends and sat for 20 minutes in a room full of kids doing coding homework. I honestly didn’t understand a single thing anyone said in that time period, but it sounded like they were all getting a C++ in their class. I was pretty surprised: In most of my classes, you can only get one plus. 

I didn’t hear any of the students in the room mention Harbaugh once. But if he ever needs a website designed, I’m sure they could help him out.

One of my friends told me my next stop should be at the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Building because it has an airplane inside. I went to look at the airplane, and figured people would be talking about Harbaugh there, because he apparently uses his private jet a bunch.

But somehow, nobody was talking about Harbaugh there, either. A few kids were selling pizza for a club and others were hustling to class, but nobody appeared to be riled up about Harbaugh’s plan to take the football team to Florida during Spring Break. Even worse, I still haven’t figured out how to pronounce Francois-Xavier Bagnoud (if you have any idea, hit me up on LinkedIn).

After staring at the plane for a few minutes, I went to Pierpont Commons, which is apparently the Michigan Union of North Campus. The only downside is that it doesn’t have historic statues, a monumental JFK speech that took place on its steps or really much of anything worth noting. It does, however, have Panda Express.

When I arrived, most students were sitting around doing homework or socializing with their friends. I didn’t overhear any intense debates about Michigan football, so I wandered into the North Campus bookstore.

Inside, I found 20 racks and shelves devoted solely to Michigan engineering T-shirts. There was not a single rack or shelf for Michigan football apparel.

I did find, on a rack of miscellaneous shirts resembling a clearance rack, three “Welcome Home Coach” T-shirts. It appeared as though somebody, ever so slightly, was aware of Harbaugh’s existence on North Campus. NASA must’ve felt similarly when it discovered evidence of liquid water on Mars.

I figured I had to be missing something, though. I mean, the people of North Campus had to have some sort of opinion of Jim Harbaugh, so I began asking students what they thought about Michigan’s football coach.

Some of them, indeed, had heard of the guy.

“Love Jim Harbaugh,” said Mitch Jacobs, a junior majoring in nuclear engineering (I don’t know what nuclear engineering is, but I think it means he’s smarter than anyone reading this column). “Love his intensity. He might be a little shady in some recruiting things, but as far as I’m concerned, as long as winning happens, that’s what I like.”

Other students saw what I was seeing, and agreed there was less hype about Harbaugh on North Campus than on Central Campus. A couple of engineering students told me some of their fellow North Campus classmates just don’t get all that excited about Harbaugh or Michigan football.

One of those students, Jared Michelson, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, proved to be a clear exception.

“Jim Harbaugh is the messiah,” he said. “He is a gift from God.”

However, many of the other students I approached said they didn’t have time to talk about Harbaugh. Some said they had too much homework, while others said they had to rush to a meeting.

A few students even indicated they had more important things to do than talk about Harbaugh.

Maybe they could teach the SEC a lesson or two.

Cohen can be reached at maxac@umich.edu and on Twitter @MaxACohen.