Ohio State Reportedly Inquired About In-Person Scouting of CFP Opponents Before Last Season's Playoff

By Chase Brown on October 28, 2023 at 4:49 pm
Ryan Day / Jim Harbaugh
Joseph Maiorana / USA TODAY Sports

According to Ross Dellenger of Yahoo Sports, in December 2022, Ohio State made a peculiar inquiry to the NCAA: Is it permissible to scout semifinal playoff games in person?

For almost three decades, in-person scouting of a future opponent’s game – in the regular season – has been prohibited under NCAA rules. In the postseason, however, the association permits in-person scouting, including multi-team, single-site events such as the NCAA basketball, baseball and softball tournaments.

As the CFP semifinals approached on New Year's Eve 2022, Ohio State wanted clarification on the rule: Is it permissible to have staff members attend the other semifinal to scout future opponents?

The Buckeyes' unreported inquiry seemed harmless at the time. Still, it ignited discussions between the CFP and NCAA over their policies, eventually triggering an unpublicized change to the CFP bylaws. Ten months later, Ohio State’s request adds a new wrinkle to the NCAA’s investigation of Michigan's alleged sign-stealing scandal, which was spearheaded by staffer Connor Stalions, spanned across three seasons and involved dozens of games from both Big Ten and non-Big Ten schools.

At the center of the NCAA’s investigation are two of the association's bylaws – one that prohibits the scouting of a future opponent’s game in person and another that forbids the video recording of an opponent’s signals.

On Thursday, Yahoo Sports reported that multiple Big Ten coaching staffs, including Ohio State, were suspicious of the Wolverines’ sign-stealing operation as far back as last year. Michigan was the No. 2 seed in last season's CFP, and Ohio State was the No. 4 seed. The Wolverines faced No. 3 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl and the Buckeyes battled No. 1 Georgia in the Peach Bowl.

Last December’s inquiry by Ohio State, while leaving a variety of questions unanswered, seems relevant as the NCAA investigates Michigan and interviews coaches on Jim Harbaugh's staff.

An NCAA spokesperson confirmed to Yahoo Sports that a school reached out for clarification about the in-person scouting policy. Because the playoff is not an NCAA-operated event, the organization turned to the CFP.

“We didn’t have a policy, and we operated without one until the question was raised," CFP executive director Bill Hancock told Yahoo Sports.

Without a policy, CFP officials resorted to the NCAA’s postseason policy around in-person scouting. They ruled that football staff members could attend the opposite semifinal to scout their possible opponent in a national championship game.

The CFP notified all four participating teams. Officials at TCU and Georgia confirmed to Yahoo Sports that they are unaware of having sent a staff member to scout the other semifinal. At the same time, a spokesperson at Michigan did not respond to a request for comment, and an Ohio State spokesperson declined to comment. The Peach Bowl did not release information about scouts attendance to Yahoo Sports, while a Fiesta Bowl spokesperson said there was no ticket request made to the bowl from Ohio State.

Around four months after the semifinals, the CFP Board of Governors implemented a new policy, making in-person scouting of playoff games impermissible – an important note with the CFP on the cusp of expanding to a 12-team, eight-game tournament.

Moreover, Ohio State's inquiry is a footnote in the historic rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan. The rivalry has become more intense the past two seasons, as Michigan broke an eight-game losing streak to Ohio State in 2021 and followed that up with its first win in Columbus in over two decades in 2022. The Buckeyes will look to keep the Wolverines from their third consecutive win in the matchup when the teams face off in Ann Arbor on Nov. 25.

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