For the past two weeks, coaches across college football have been riveted by the alleged Michigan sign-stealing scheme, but within the Big Ten, the topic is little more than a curiosity. During Wednesday’s Big Ten coaches video call with commissioner Tony Petitti, and after Jim Harbaugh left the call, frustration was expressed loud and clear, according to conference coaches, who said they don’t feel the new Big Ten commissioner is “motivated” to do anything about the Wolverines.
“There’s a ton of frustration,” one Big Ten coach said The Athletic on Thursday morning. “Look at Jim Harbaugh’s record before it starts. The guy was on the hot seat before 2021, and now he’s like the king of college football. … There is no doubt that all this had a profound effect.
“This guy is being investigated for three different things right now between (alleged) illegal signal stealing, (alleged) illegal recruiting during the COVID era and that investigation of the offensive coordinator and suspect computer hacking There’s guys (on that call) who could be out of a job, and then there’s this guy here (Harbaugh) who’s going to get a new, bigger contract right now, and they’re not going to do anything about him.
Asked to describe the tone of sentiment the coaches expressed to Petitti, another Big Ten coach called it “angry” — especially at the Big Ten’s lack of action, or even apparent interest in anything.
“Everybody’s upset,” said that coach The Athletic. “Why is nothing being done? We want to know, what else do you need to know to take action? We (the Big Ten head coaches) want to do something now. I don’t think people understand the advantage that what they (supposedly) do gives you. People think, ‘OK, now that everyone knows, we can all just move on.’ Like, ‘now, it’s fair.’ Well, no, no. Not really. It changes the way you operate. Many teams have been doing things a certain way for years. Now, it forces you to teach your players a new way to communicate just for them. People think it’s just advanced scouting. It’s close to espionage.”
The third Big Ten head coach said The Athletic that it was “one of the most egregious breaches of the spirit of the game” he had ever heard of.
“They (Michigan) have been manipulating the game and cheating the game for two-and-a-half years. To know exactly what the other team is doing, Michigan could have played with 15 men on the field,” he said. “What’s the message the Big Ten is sending right now by doing nothing? Win now, pay later? We can also send people to (scout) their skills and their games. It does not encourage anyone to follow the rules. They’re just being told to do the opposite and say, f— it.”
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The NCAA is investigating Michigan’s football program amid allegations the Wolverines used illegal in-person scouting and the recording of signals to steal signs this season. Before the Michigan-Michigan State game on Oct. 21, the Big Ten approached MSU and said it had learned of “credible evidence” about the sign theft allegations. The Big Ten said it will monitor the NCAA’s investigation into Michigan.
“The Big Ten is stronger than the NCAA,” the third Big Ten coach said. “Why are you sitting and doing nothing about this? The Big Ten can’t beat its chest for the past 30 years about how it’s doing the right thing ethically (when other conferences like the SEC aren’t) and then get on with it. If this was a team in the bottom half of the Big Ten, would it be handled the same way?
“When a running back gets hurt against Michigan because they know what the game is coming, is that kid and his family going to have the ability to sue the Big Ten?”
The NCAA investigation is ongoing, a process that often moves slowly, making it difficult to imagine it will reach a resolution by the time the postseason begins. The Big Ten has the ability to act under its sportsmanship policy, but that doesn’t mean it will want to act quickly or definitively before the NCAA completes its full investigation and gives Michigan a chance to respond to its findings.
This is an unprecedented situation; whatever Petitti decides to do (or not do) will set a precedent. The Big Ten itself has no investigators, so it has to rely on the NCAA to do that part — and to determine who else was involved in the alleged scouting scheme. It’s unclear exactly what the coaches want the league to do to punish Michigan; banning the team from competing in the Big Ten championship, for example, would harm players who had nothing to do with the sign-stealing apparatus.
A source said about the coaches’ call that Big Ten coaches were concerned about whether Michigan “should represent the Big Ten.”
“No matter what happens, if Michigan keeps moving forward, the clouds will follow,” the source said. “They’re reading tea leaves and wondering why the Big Ten isn’t doing anything yet. Every week and every day that goes by, people are like, ‘Something’s got to give.’ It’s a bit lost when you see him (allegedly) on the Central Michigan sideline. The playing field is not level today. How can you have a team that you know has a competitive advantage over still allowing you to play? That’s what the coaches are fighting for.”
“It seems like (former commissioner) Kevin (Warren) took over and then the COVID,” the source continued. “Tony is walking into this situation, and people are calling for the league to make a statement before they get all the facts.”
Despite the disappointment from all corners of the conference, sources at four different Big Ten schools said they don’t expect the conference to impose any kind of penalty against Michigan before the season is over.
Earlier this week, Central Michigan said it was investigating whether suspended Michigan staffer Connor Stallions was on the CMU sideline during the Chippewas’ Sept. 1 game at Michigan State. Screenshots of someone resembling Stalions began circulating online Monday night, and The Athletic got more photos of the man on the sideline on Tuesday.
Central Michigan checks if the man on the right here is Connor Stalions on the CMU sideline at Michigan State earlier this season.
AD Amy Folan: “We became aware of these images yesterday and are in the process of determining the facts surrounding them.” pic.twitter.com/ncazAghBbS
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) October 31, 2023
The Stallions, who were suspended with pay by Michigan on Oct. 20, are at the center of an NCAA investigation into an alleged scouting and sign-stealing scheme. The Stallions bought tickets to games in at least seven Big Ten stadiums before those teams played the Wolverines over the past three seasons, including the 2023 season, sources said. The Athletic last month. Buying the tickets is not a violation of NCAA rules, but using them to scout and record other teams would violate the rules, prohibiting in-person, on-campus scouting and the audio or video recording of signals.
“They are not allegations. It happened,” Purdue coach Ryan Walters said Thursday night at his radio show before Saturday’s game against the Wolverines. “There is video evidence. There are ticket purchases and sales that you can track back. We know for a fact that they are in a number of our games. We had to teach our boys a new language.”
On Monday, coach Jim Harbaugh met with reporters and said “the people who know us the most think the most about us” as Michigan faces an NCAA investigation. He denied knowledge of the alleged scouting.
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(Photo: David Berding/Getty Images)