STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) – The Big Ten Conference on Friday banned Jim Harbaugh from coaching Michigan’s three remaining regular-season games, defying a warning from the second-ranked Wolverines in an extraordinary showdown over a plan to sign signs to steal. rocked college football.
Harbaugh was disciplined by the conference less than 24 hours before kickoff at No. 9 Penn State in the Wolverines’ toughest game of the season so far. Michigan (9-0) has a chance to win its third straight Big Ten title and the school’s first national championship since 1997.
The Michigan plane landed in Pennsylvania shortly before the announcement. It issued a statement ridiculing the decision.
“Like all members of the Big Ten Conference, we are entitled to a fair, deliberate and thoughtful process to determine the full set of facts before making a judgment,” the school said. “Today’s action by Commissioner Tony Petitti disregards the conference’s own handbook, violates the basic principles of due process, and sets an untenable precedent for imposing sanctions before an investigation is completed.”
Harbaugh has denied any knowledge of any improper scouting in his program. Michigan warned earlier this week that it was prepared to take possible legal action if the conference punished the program before a full investigation; the NCAA and the Big Ten are both investigating the claims.
“To ensure fairness in the process, we plan to work with Coach Harbaugh to seek an injunction to prevent these disciplinary actions from taking effect,” Michigan said.
It could be difficult to get a court order before Saturday’s game; Friday is the recognized federal holiday for Veterans Day and the courts were closed. Miihigan accused the Big Ten of “thwarting” their plan to seek immediate relief from a judge.
Such a fight between a conference and one of its most legendary members is unheard of. The dispute began three weeks ago and the allegations have leaked day after day, with it becoming clear the Wolverines do not want their undefeated season to be derailed by an unfinished investigation into activities that Harbaugh says were unknown and are not unheard of in college football.
The Big Ten said the school violated its sportsmanship policy by conducting “an impermissible, in-person scouting operation over several years” that resulted in “an unfair competitive advantage that compromised the integrity of the competition.” As a result, the Big Ten said Michigan will have to play without Harbaugh this weekend against the Nittany Lions (8-1), next week at Maryland and in the annual showdown against rival and No. 3 Ohio State in two weeks. While Harbaugh is allowed at practices and other activities, he cannot be “present at the competition location.”
The league also sent a 13-page letter to Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel to support its decision.
“(A) college football employee engaged in an organized, extensive, multi-year personal scouting program that was impermissible. …Such misconduct inherently compromises the integrity of the competition,” the letter said, before saying the school’s response did not deny that the scheme took place. “Instead, it offers only procedural and technical arguments designed to delay accountability.”
Michigan says it is cooperating with the NCAA, which does not ban sign stealing but does have rules against personally scouting opponents and using electronic equipment to steal signs. The allegations against Michigan suggest a much more robust approach to signal collection.
The low-level staffer at the center of the investigation, Connor Stalion, resigned last week. Through his attorney, Stalion said that, to his knowledge, none of the Michigan coaches told anyone to break the rules or were aware of inappropriate behavior when it came to advanced scouting.
The NCAA investigation will likely extend well beyond the season. Big Ten rules allowed for quicker action, and coaches and athletic directors around the league had pushed Petitti to discipline Michigan under conference statutes dealing with sportsmanship and competitive integrity.
Multiple Big Ten schools have found tickets purchased in Stalion’s name for their games over the past three seasons. Tickets for the last two Southeastern Conference championship games were also purchased in Stalion’s name. Big Ten schools also provided the NCAA with video footage of people sitting in those seats, with their cellphones pointed toward the court.
Harbaugh served a school-imposed three-game suspension earlier this season for an unrelated and unresolved NCAA recruiting violation case. The former star quarterback for the Wolverines has an overall record of 80-25 and a 59-17 mark in Big Ten play over nine seasons with the Wolverines. He considered returning to the NFL coaching ranks after the 2021 season.
Michigan has alleged that other schools are stealing signs. A former employee of a Big Ten football program whose role was to steal signs said he obtained details from multiple conference schools before his team played Michigan to put together a spreadsheet of play-calling signals that last were used by the Wolverines for years. He spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear the revelations could affect his coaching career.
The person said he also passed along screenshots of text messages with staffers from a handful of Big Ten football teams involving the Wolverines, giving them evidence that other conference teams conspired to steal signs from Harbaugh’s team.
The Big Ten rejected Michigan’s argument that other schools also stole signs.
“The conference is not impressed by the university’s attempt to downplay its impermissible conduct by alleging that other members of the conference may have engaged in sign decoding,” the letter said. “The conference has not received any information that other member schools were engaging in unauthorized in-person scouting, let alone a scheme of the magnitude and scale at issue here. … the conference strongly rejects any defense by the university or any other conference member that cheating is acceptable because other teams do it too.”
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage contributed.
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