Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: What will be the result of Michigan’s sign-stealing scandal?
The Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison this past Saturday, however, nobody seems to care all that much. And I guess I understand the apathy. I mean, it was sort of a lackluster victory for the Buckeyes. But a Big Ten road win is still impressive, right? And OSU’s defense was amazing. As were TreVeyon Henderson and Marvin Harrison Jr. Still, I feel as if the Scarlet and Gray are taking a back seat to the hot new name in college football.
And who would that be? Well, Connor Stalions, of course. This guy is the latest rage for good reason: He has an awesome name. He served his country in the military. He’s a writer. Of a manifesto, no less! And on top of all that, Stalions is... Oh, what’s that? He was running a “super-secret” spy operation for Michigan football? He would film opponents’ sideline signals and attempt to translate them for future matchups? Well, shoot, that’s unfortunate. Now he and the UM program just seem like a bunch of cheaters. Allegedly.
With that in mind, Gene and I thought that we would take it upon ourselves to lay out exactly what would happen as a result of this salacious scandal. How the Big Ten and the NCAA will investigate these accusations and allegations? What the precise penalty will be for Stalions, Jim Harbaugh, Michigan football, etc.? How it will impact the future of college football. And also how the Wolverines’ last few seasons will ultimately be viewed via revisionist history.
Or we’ll just make fun of Michigan, call the entire program filthy, filthy cheaters, predict whether the NCAA will show any competence in carrying out and closing an investigation, and share our suggested punishment(s) if these allegations are proven to be true... Yep, that sounds right up our alley.
I will start by saying this: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Everything that we have heard thus far – from several reputable media sources – leads me to believe that there was and has been some serious line-crossing going on in Ann Arbor for the past few years. Stealing signals is fair game(smanship), but sending paid randos to future opponents’ games, for the sole purpose of recording sidelines, is not kosher in my book. That is some ‘Spygate’ sh*t.
It’s also against the rules. In-person, in-season advanced scouting of opponents was banned nearly 30 years ago. And using technology to film opponents’ sidelines is even worse! These alleged behaviors go well beyond normal gamesmanship. They cross the line into cheating, plain and simple. I would have the same opinion if roles were reversed and OSU was accused.
Moving past the ‘legality’ of it all, there is no way that Stalions was acting as some rogue agent. Getting footage wasn’t easy or cheap. Nor was breaking it down and deciphering. Then we’re supposed to believe that he approached U-M staff and said something like “Hey fellas, I know what those hand signals mean. I’m really great at puzzles and charades, and I figured them out from watching a game on Big Ten Network last week!” Give me a break.
I am of the belief that members of TTUN’s staff had to have known something. How else do you explain a low-level member of the recruiting staff standing next to coaches and coordinators on the Michigan sideline, speaking directly into their damn ear(s) when/while calls were being made?
And let’s not gloss over the fact that the supposed timeline of this cheating coincides with Harbaugh and Co. finally starting to win some big games. It seems like ‘Operation Don’t Let Jimbo Lose His Job’ really kicked into gear in 2021. Around the same time, his Wolverines started smashing Big Ten teams, despite very little change in talent, coaching, recruiting, etc. But oddly enough, U-M hasn’t won a bowl game in forever. It’s almost like they don’t have some mysterious advantage over teams not in their geographical footprint. Hmm...
So what does this all mean? Probably very little. At least for now. I actually don’t have much to say regarding predicted punishment and whatnot, because I have little-to-no faith in the NCAA. I just wanted to vent for a while. I mean, what have they (the NCAA) done to give anyone any confidence in their ability to investigate these accusations, do so in a timely manner, and then hand down appropriate punishment? I say nothing, Gene.
But if I were in charge, here is how I would punish Harbaugh and the Michigan program:
- All wins from the 2021 and 2022 seasons are vacated, plus any Big Ten victories from September and October of 2023
- Three-year bowl ban
- 10-year show-cause for Jim Harbaugh, erasure of his stats as a player and coach for UM
- Reduction of 10 scholarships per season for the next three
- Removal of the words “honor” and “integrity” from any U-M literature
- Name Connor Stalions head coach of TTUN’s football team and force him to stay in-role for 10 years... I kinda want to see if his manifesto has any teeth to it.
Above all else, whichever rumors about how deep Michigan’s sign-stealing operation goes are true or not, the one thing about his whole situation that is certain: It is hilarious.
The way I see it, regardless of the outcome, Ohio State fans win. Even if there are no punishments levied against Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines program, TTUN’s two wins in The Game over the last two years are completely tarnished. Could Michigan have beaten the Buckeyes in 2021 and 2022 without cheating? Maybe, but we’ll never know, because they did. And that is the beauty of the whole situation. Any of the success Ohio State’s biggest rival has had over the last two years is now completely meaningless, and that is a beautiful thing.
As I said, we still don't know the full extent of how deep this operation went, but at the very least we know for certain it did happen. Michigan did, for a fact, send staffers to opposing schools to film their sidelines and steal their signals. They attended several Ohio State games over the last few years, and there is video from last year’s edition of The Game of Stalions looking over at Ryan Day’s sideline and letting his defensive coordinator know what is coming. There are pictures of his laminated sheet of hand signals acquired via what we know are illegal methods. That much happened, and it would be hard for Harbaugh and his staff to say otherwise.
What’s pretty damning to me is that Michigan’s meteoric rise to power came with virtually no increase in recruiting talent. The Wolverines’ classes ranked No. 22 in 2018, No. 10 in 2019, No. 12 in 2020, No. 13 in 2021 and No. 12 in 2022. Where in there am I supposed to believe that the team got exponentially better and suddenly started beating Ohio State — a team they had not beaten since 2011 — by multiple scores both at home and on the road? Did Harbaugh suddenly put together a magical coaching staff perfectly built to beat the Buckeyes? Survey says: No.
At the end of the day, Harbaugh got bullied so badly by Urban Meyer that he needed to abandon his core principles and cheat in order to finally get a win over his biggest rival. Even in doing so, all they got in return was a pair of wins against Ohio State that have lost any of their respect, a pair of tainted Big Ten titles, and losses to Georgia and TCU in the College Football Playoff. They cheated the system and went above and beyond to get a leg up on the competition, and it still wasn’t good enough to win a national title — even with teams that were really talented on their own without the sign stealing.
I’m honestly not sure what the outcome of this whole ordeal will be. It seems like each day we learn another piece of information about the operation, and every time it gets worse and worse for Michigan. The NCAA won’t actually be able to punish the Wolverines, if they intend to, until next season anyway, but the Big Ten could do something about it as soon as they’d like. I think that with a handful of big brands joining the conference next year, they cannot afford to look soft and give Michigan a pass simply because of their brand. That would look incredibly weak to teams like Oregon, Washington, and USC — and of course, Ohio State — and send a message that these types of things will be tolerated in the future.
I could very well see all those wins from the 2021 and 2022 seasons vacated, as well as a Big Ten title ban for the next season or two. It sucks to punish the players that didn’t have a hand in the actual cheating, but simply forcing out Harbaugh wouldn’t be enough. It’s hard to get a real grasp of the ramifications, as there is no prior precedent to draw off. There really hasn’t been anything like this that has happened before in college football history, so punishments could range from hardly anything to severe depending on the full findings of the investigation(s). At a minimum, I would be surprised if Harbaugh is still coaching the team in 2024, and I can’t imagine the Wolverines keep those wins they earned via cheating.
And of course, if anything we’ve said above turns out to be untrue, this is all parody and we’re completely kidding...