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Michigan football sign-stealing case: What we know as possible Jim Harbaugh punishment looms

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan football sign-stealing case is expected to heat up soon, as the Big Ten decides whether to issue punishment to the Wolverines or Jim Harbaugh.

This story features leaks, reports, and rumors from dozens of different sources. Certain national outlets are determined to prove Michigan’s guilt, while others are set on defending the Wolverines. It can be overwhelming trying to sift through all the information and misinformation.

So, what do we actually know?

Connor Stalions

We know that now-former Michigan staffer Connor Stalions, who was a low-level analyst for the football team before resigning last week, bought tickets to games featuring future opponents. Big Ten rivals said they have footage of the people who were sitting in those seats filming the sidelines during games.

So, in essence, the accusation is that someone on Michigan’s staff paid for others to film opponents in person. That’s technically against the scouting rules, which were amended to outlaw in-person scouting because many smaller schools couldn’t afford to send scouts to every away game.

There’s also an image on social media that shows someone who looks like Stalions on the Central Michigan sideline during the Michigan State game earlier this season. If it’s actually Stalions in the photo, nobody seems to know how or why he got there.

What’s pretty clear is that Michigan broke the scouting rules in some capacity, otherwise, why would Stalions have gone through such lengths to hide what he was doing? What’s not clear is the scope of the operation, and whether anyone else was involved.

Big Ten coaches demand action

New Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti went to Ann Arbor last week for the conference’s field hockey tournament and met with U of M President Santa Ono.

Petitti was reportedly pressured by the rest of the league’s coaches and universities to take action against Michigan — more specifically, action against Harbaugh. Petitti apparently went to Ann Arbor and asked Michigan to self-impose a suspension, a request that the university higher-ups declined.

Ono emailed the commissioner and asked that “due process” be followed.

“The reputation and livelihoods of coaches, students, and programs cannot be sacrificed in a rush to judgment, no matter how many and how loudly people protest otherwise,” Ono wrote. “Due process matters.”

Jim Harbaugh’s involvement

So far, there hasn’t been any information that links Harbaugh or any other members of Michigan’s staff to the sign-stealing operation.

It’s possible that more information could come out, but the early leaks were released very strategically to paint Michigan in a bad light, so it would be surprising if there was incriminating evidence that hadn’t yet been revealed.

That doesn’t necessarily absolve Harbaugh of blame, though. The NCAA has a clause holding head coaches responsible for what goes on within their programs, so Harbaugh could still face punishment even if he didn’t know what was going on.

It doesn’t help that the NCAA was already targeting Harbaugh for a recruiting violation during the COVID period. Even though it seemed to be a relatively minor offense, the NCAA accuses Harbaugh of lying to investigators, so Michigan’s self-imposed three-game suspension to start this year apparently was not enough.

Michigan’s signs stolen

After weeks of forced silence because of the ongoing NCAA investigation, some of Michigan’s defense has started to leak. The Wolverines were apparently approached by a former staff member at a Big Ten school, and that person claims he was part of a group of schools that worked together to decipher Michigan’s signs.

A spreadsheet was later leaked to Yahoo, and it appears to show which of Michigan’s plays corresponded to which hand signals. The former staffer said he has screenshots of text messages showing coaches discussing the operation.

Specifically, Ohio State and Rutgers are accused of sending Michigan’s signs to Purdue before last year’s Big Ten Championship Game.

This is definitely a bad look for opposing schools who seemed to be so incredibly shocked and outraged that Michigan would have their signs, but it’s not clear if any rules were actually broken by Ohio State, Rutgers, or Purdue.

Sharing signs that were deciphered legally might not actually be illegal, unless the conference considers what Purdue received to be “advanced scouting.”

Michigan awaits punishment decision

The Big Ten notified Michigan on Monday that it could face discipline for the sign-stealing operation, triggering the conference’s mandatory 48-hour window for the Wolverines to respond.

That has led many to speculate that a punishment for Michigan or a Harbaugh suspension could be announced on Wednesday.

How severe will the punishment be? That remains to be seen. Certainly, a suspension now would be damaging for Michigan, which is days away from a top-10 battle against Penn State on the road. The Wolverines need a win in Happy Valley to keep their national championship hopes alive.

The other question: Could Michigan delay the punishment? There might be some legal avenues that allow the university to pause any suspension until the whole process plays out. Michigan is reportedly prepared to pursue those legal options, but we won’t know for sure until a punishment is handed down.

Now, we wait

Each day has brought new twists and turns in this case, and Wednesday won’t be any different.

Whether it’s more evidence against Michigan, another leak in favor of the Wolverines, or a decision by the Big Ten, the entire college football world is standing by.

For now, all we can do is stay tuned.

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