University of Michigan’s football team caught up in controversy

The No. 2 ranked University of Michigan football team is seemingly headed for another strong season and currently dominates the field with their undefeated record. The team is once again projected to make it all the way to the College Football Playoffs (CFP) for the third year in a row and compete for their first CFP title in program history. Despite their success and bright future, controversy shrouds the team behind the scenes. 

The team has been under fire recently for alleged NCAA violations, relating to attending the opposing team’s games and recording the coaches as they signaled plays. Assistant to the team Connor Stalions has been suspended for his presumed involvement in the sign-stealing, but head coach Jim Harbaugh has denied any involvement and agreed to “fully cooperate” with the ongoing NCAA investigation into the team. Although NCAA rules do not explicitly outlaw sign-stealing, there are regulations that prohibit any kind of recording of the signs exchanged between players and coaches on an opposing team. 

It is unknown when a resolution to this case will be reached, but, as with many cases involving the NCAA, it could take up to a year.

The scandal was exposed by an investigative firm which found that Michigan had been involved in recording coaches for the past two seasons, as well as scouting — attending the games of opposing teams in an attempt to gather information. The NCAA received evidence of coaches on the Michigan team attending the games of their opponents and clearly recording the coaches on the sidelines. These videos were then uploaded to a computer, which was accessed by Stalions and other members of the Michigan football coaching staff. It was made clear that the sign-stealing scheme was expected to cover over 40 games and $15,000

The ongoing investigation into Stalions’ alleged involvement in sign stealing will determine the scale of the punishment, and who is punished. It is yet to be determined whether or not Stalions acted alone in the sign-stealing operation, or if other members of the Michigan football coaching staff were aware or involved. 

As of now, Harbaugh denies any knowledge of the Stalion’s alleged actions, and there is no evidence as of yet connecting him to any of the accusations. Having already served a self-imposed three game suspension earlier in the season for recruiting violations, Harbaugh could face further suspension or even more severe disciplinary actions, including the removal of prior wins in which sign-stealing was involved, if he is proven to have had knowledge of the operation or involvement. On Sunday, Michigan rescinded a contract extension to Harbaugh that would have made him the highest paid coach in the Big Ten Conference.

Prior to starting his coaching career at Michigan, where he attended himself, Harbaugh coached for the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-2014. There, he had great success leading the team, with a record of 49-22-1 over the course of the four seasons, which included three NFC Championship Game appearances and a narrow Super Bowl loss in 2013. Although Harbaugh has not explicitly stated an intention to move back to the NFL following the allegations against Michigan, if he chose to make the switch back to the NFL, he could still face the same punishments as he would if he stayed. 

It is unknown when a resolution to this case will be reached, but, as with many cases involving the NCAA, it could take up to a year. In the meantime, Michigan could face disciplinary actions from the Big Ten. Although the NCAA is the main governing body, the Big Ten does have the ability to investigate the issue on their own, and could potentially punish Michigan however they see fit, if presented with enough evidence to prove wrongdoing. 

The future still remains unclear for Jim Harbaugh and the University of Michigan’s renowned football team. It is difficult to tell what will happen to the team if the allegations of cheating are proved to be true, as a sign-stealing scandal of this scale is unprecedented. What was set out to be a spectacular season from the Wolverines, may ultimately be crushed by internal misconduct.


Featured photo courtesy of Maize & Blue Nation, Flickr