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Crime and Punishment: A Michigan Cheating Scandal... Also just a humorous column... Also, also a manifesto.

What you are about to read is one man’s attempt to understand and get to the core of a scandal that has shaken the very foundation of college football. And possibly even the world.

Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

In the event that you have been living under a rock for several weeks, a major cheating scandal has recently rocked the college football world, leaving fans, players, coaches, media members, and even the general, non-football viewing public understandably shaken. In short: the University of Michigan football program – whose ‘Michigan Men’ consider themselves above or beyond reproach in terms of character – has essentially been accused of harboring a diabolical (football) criminal mastermind for several years; an individual in Connor Stalions who is now accused of spying on rivals and using state-of-the-art technology to steal, decipher, and decode secret signals and signs.

In medium: Connor Stalions (great name), a low-ranking member of U-M’s recruiting staff, has been accused of buying tickets to dozens of football games featuring future or potential opponents, distributing them to his network of covert operatives, asking those individuals to film or record sideline activity, send him any and all footage/intel, keep quiet, and act as if this completely normal behavior. Stalions would then use his specific set of skills – a la Liam Neeson – to crack codes, (presumably) feed information to the Wolverines’ coaching staff, create colorful, laminated cheat sheets, and use any means necessary to gain an unfair and unlawful advantage over teams like Ohio State, a team that had previously owned the Maize and Blue for decades.

The latest plot twist or development in this story is that Stalions may or may not be disguising himself as a staffer for other teams (!) and either helping said team against Big Ten opponents or doing his own additional ‘scouting’ boots on the ground-style... Truly wild, wild stuff.

Especially damning is the fact that several seemingly reputable reports have come out over the past few weeks, supposedly corroborating certain (or all) accusations, and painting a picture of nasty, nefarious behavior. Those reports have included conversations, details, and/or images regarding or pertaining to:

  • Text messages from Stalions, boasting of his ‘ability’ to steal signs, as well as his relationship with certain U-M coaches
  • Tickets purchased by Stalions
  • Footage/images of individuals other than Stalions sitting in his purchased seat(s) and recording or filming sidelines
  • A former D-III coach claimed that he was hired by Stalions to attend and record at three different Big Ten games
  • Footage/images of Stalions standing next to coaches, holding laminated cards, and conversing with them as soon as plays are called and/or adjustments are made on the field
  • Confirmation or opinion from other coaches and football personnel that the Wolverines were long believed to have some sort of elaborate sign-stealing system in place
  • Oh, and my own report that the Michigan Wolverines have been waxed in their last handful of bowl games... Ya know, against opponents that are not easy to predict and/or film in secret
Nothing to see here, folks
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK
Surely a coincidence...
Set Number: X164269 TK1

This salacious scandal was supposedly uncovered by a private investigation firm using counterintelligence tactics such as reviewing available camera footage and checking credit card transactions and is now being looked into by the NCAA, the Big Ten, and presumably the FBI, CIA, and Interpol. As a result, U-M and its football program are facing serious, serious scrutiny. Not to mention criticism and/or questions previously arising from the team’s known recruiting violations, a coach being less than truthful with the NCAA, possibly sweeping an arrest or two under the rug, and generally just undermining the honor and integrity of collegiate athletics.

Now, in the program’s defense, these most recent accusations are just that. Accusations. Key figures have come out and said that the school, team, program, or whatever will cooperate with any investigation(s)... Not that they really have a choice. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan’s head coach, has also pled total ignorance to this alleged cheating scandal, insinuating that any alleged improper behavior took place – for years, in the dark, on his sideline and in his team’s offices – without his knowledge.

But I’ll say 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 signs is fair game(smanship) but sending paid operatives to future opponents’ games, for the sole purpose of recording individuals without their knowledge or consent, is not kosher in my book. Such behavior is deserving of immediate and significant consequences... Which I will get to later.

First, just an honest, eloquent, well-thought-out opinion on the matter from this gentleman:

What at least one currently suspended but not fired U-M football staffer (Stalions) is accused of participating in is also against the rules. In-person, in-season advanced scouting of opponents was banned by the NCAA nearly 30 years ago. And using technology to film opponents’ sidelines is even more egregious! This alleged behavior goes well beyond normal gamesmanship. It is cheating, plain and simple. Hell, it might even qualify as criminal. So perhaps felony charges are or will be appropriate when all is said and done. I would have the same opinion if roles were reversed and someone associated with OSU was accused of such dastardly, conniving behavior.

Moving past the NCAA ‘legality’ of it all, there is not a single person outside the geographical footprint of Ann Arbor, MI who believes that one man was acting as some rogue agent, James Bond-style, like certain conspiracy theorists have suggested. This was an elaborate, multi-level, multi-cell scheme. Getting tickets to 30+ college football games – around the 50-yard line each time – was neither easy nor cheap. Nor was breaking down recorded footage, deciphering signals, and then translating them into functional or usable intel.

Photo credit should read BRIDGET BENNETT/AFP via Getty Images

The cherry on top of this bullsh*t sundae is that we are apparently being asked to believe that said rogue agent then approached Michigan’s coaching staff and said something to the effect of “Hey gang, I know what those hand signals mean. I’m great at puzzles and charades, and I figured them out by watching a game on TV last week!” Give me a break.

This thing went all the way to the top. Not to name names, but I wouldn’t be surprised if politicians and/or presidents were aware of the elaborate scheme. So it stands to reason that coaches and staff members were involved. I mean, how else do you explain a low-ranking member of the Wolverines’ recruiting staff standing next to coaches and coordinators on the 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 *alleged* cheating just so happens to coincide with Harbaugh (Jim, not Jay, John, or Jack from here on out) and company finally starting to win some big football games! It appears that ‘Operation Don’t Let Jimbo Lose His Job’ really kicked into high gear in 2021. Around this same time, U-M started smashing Big Ten rivals, despite very little change in their philosophy, scheme(s), roster makeup, talent, coaching, recruiting, etc. But oddly enough, Michigan hasn’t won a bowl game since the Obama Administration. It’s almost as if the team doesn’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. Because the NCAA is inept. Incapable. Incredibly dumb and/or slow-moving when it comes to investigations. In... Just bad at how they handle pretty much everything.

That being said, if I were in charge, here are the primary punishments I would dole out to Harbaugh and the Michigan football program... IF and only IF, after a thorough and fair investigation, these allegations are proven to be true:

  • All wins that included the use of stolen signs from the 2021 and 2022 seasons vacated, plus any Big Ten victories from September and October 2023
  • Three-year bowl ban
  • 10-year show-cause for Jim Harbaugh, plus erasure of his existence as both a player and coach for the Wolverines
  • Reduction of 30 scholarships per season for the next three... Nothing rebuilds (team) character like facing adversity, which will be the benefit/result of players being forced to play both ways.
  • Removal of the words “honor” and “integrity” from any and all U-M literature
  • The university must name Stalions its head football coach and force him to stay in-role for 10 years... I may or may not want to see if this manifesto has any teeth to it.

That’s just where I’m at, folks. Call me a traditionalist or a strict disciplinarian, but if these accusations are proven to be true, then I think you gotta (figuratively) blow up the Michigan football program. This might sound harsh, however, there is simply no place in football – let alone society – for such disgusting and deplorable behavior.

And if you want my honest guess as to whether this cheating stuff did or did not go down... Well, to quote Mr. David Chappelle: “Baretta did that sh*t.”