NCAA investigating Michigan Football over sign stealing allegations, Harbaugh banned for season

A American football on a green football field. © Michael Flippo licensed through Adobe Stock.

By Chloe Wojtanik

Boston University News Service

The Big Ten has suspended Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh for the remainder of the regular season as the league disciplines the program amid the ongoing NCAA investigation into the school’s alleged in-person sign-stealing scandal. 

The suspension for Harbaugh only bans him from the sideline on gameday. He is allowed to coach the team the remainder of the week during practice. 

Michigan Wolverines football, a favorite to win the National Championship this season, is currently under investigation by the NCAA for an alleged sign-stealing scandal involving prohibited scouting of opponents. 

The sign-stealing allegations are centered around a former Michigan football recruiting analyst, Connor Stalions, who recently resigned from his position amidst the allegations. Red flags were raised when Stalions purchased tickets in his name to games of future opponents and sent people to those games to record videos of the team’s signals. 

When Big Ten schools looked at who was sitting in the seats that Stalions purchased for the game, they found that the person sitting in those seats was pointing their phones towards the field, specifically aiming at the sidelines. 

Stalions conducting this sign recording scheme goes directly against NCAA Bylaw 11.6.1, which states that “off-campus, in-person scouting of future opponents (in the same season) is prohibited.” 

In addition to the video side of the scheme, photos are circulating on the internet alleging that Stalions was on the Central Michigan Sideline during their Sept. 1 game, sporting a CMU shirt and hat while also wearing sunglasses. 

“We were unaware, totally unaware of [the alleged presence of Stalions], and I certainly don’t condone [possible sign-stealing] in any way, shape or form,” CMU Head Coach Jim McElwain said. How Stalions made it to the sideline and remained there for the entire game without being recognized is currently unknown. 

Currently, there are no NCAA or Big Ten rules against opposing teams trying to decode each other’s play-calling signs. The rules come into play when officials from opposing teams go off of their campus to scout another game in-person. Also, the use of electric equipment to record another team’s play-calling signs is prohibited by the NCAA, which Stalions broke when he used phones to record other games and their sidelines. 

Michigan football released a letter on the matter at hand and essentially became a whistle-blower for cheating in the Big Ten, stating that “the conference should act cautiously when setting precedent given the reality that in-person scouting, collusion among opponents, and other questionable practices may well be far more prevalent than believed.”

Harbaugh issued a statement on the matter where he stated that he had no knowledge of the sign-stealing scheme when it was going on and he never instructed any faculty to go to off-campus games to scout. 

“I do not have any knowledge or information regarding the University of Michigan football program illegally stealing signals, nor have I directed any staff member or others to participate in an off-campus scouting assignment. I have no awareness of anyone on our staff having done that or having directed that action,” said Harbaugh. 

This is the second major sign-stealing scandal that has occurred within the last decade; the first came in 2017 when the Houston Astros stole  opposing teams’ signs using video cameras and non-verbal communication in the dugout. The Astros went on to win the World Series that year, marking it as one of the most controversial championships in all of professional sports.

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