Michigan President Santa Ono Urges Big Ten to Respect “Due Process” Amid NCAA Investigation Into In-Person Scouting

By Chase Brown on November 5, 2023 at 9:03 am
Santa Ono

In a letter to Tony Petitti obtained by ESPN's Adam Rittenberg, Michigan president Santa Ono urged the Big Ten commissioner to respect “due process” and the NCAA investigation into the Wolverines' football program as Petitti explores potential discipline of Michigan for its alleged sign-stealing operation.

Ono emailed Petitti on Thursday, before their Friday meeting in Ann Arbor, where Petitti attended the Big Ten field hockey tournament. Petitti and Ono discussed the allegations against Michigan, as well as the information Petitti has obtained from the NCAA and various coaches and athletic directors within the Big Ten.

Here is the complete email from Ono to Petitti:

Dear Tony,

I look forward to our meeting and am writing now to share some of my deeply held beliefs, which I hope can inform our conversation and guide what we do next.

None of us wants to be in this situation. The University of Michigan takes its compliance obligations seriously. We are committed to ethics, integrity, and fair play. It is at our core and always will be. And that is why I am so deeply concerned about the allegations.

We are fully cooperating with the NCAA in its investigation, as it seeks to separate the facts from irresponsible speculation seen in much of the public and social media discourse.

It’s precisely at these times — when all key facts are not known but others are all too comfortable offering strongly held opinion — that it is essential for everyone to ensure that investigations are conducted fairly and that conclusions are based on what actually happened. The reputation and livelihoods of coaches, students, and programs cannot be sacrificed in a rush to judgment, no matter how many and how loudly people protest otherwise. Due process matters.

We, as would any other member of the Big 10, deserve nothing less. Our students, our coaches, our program—all are entitled to a fair, deliberate, thoughtful process. We are aware that other representatives of the Big10 are demanding that you take action now, before any meaningful investigation and full consideration of all the evidence. That is not something our conference rules permit. And we both know it is not what any other member would want if allegations were raised against their people or programs.

The Big 10 has not informed us of any investigation of its own, as would be required under conference rules. And, to be clear, oral updates from NCAA enforcement staff do not and cannot constitute evidence, nor do we think the NCAA would ever intend for an oral update to be given that meaning or weight.

The best course of action, the one far more likely to ascertain the facts, is to await the results of the NCAA investigation. But if you refuse to let the NCAA investigative process play out, the Big 10 may not take any action against the University or its players or coaches without commencing its own investigation and offering us the opportunity to provide our position. That is not just required by our conference rules; it is a matter of basic fairness.


Santa J. Ono


University of Michigan

Under the Big Ten's sportsmanship rules, Petitti has the authority to investigate and impose discipline independent of the NCAA's investigative and infractions process, which is expected to continue well after the 2023 college football season ends.

In a press conference after the Wolverines' 41-13 win over Purdue, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said Ono's public support is "deeply appreciated". Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel declined to answer questions Saturday about the investigation – or whether he met with Petitti during the commissioner's visit to Ann Arbor.

“Y’all can keep asking me all the questions you want,” Manuel told reporters. “I have no comment.”

According to ESPN’s report, if Petitti takes action, he likely will target Harbaugh rather than a team-related penalty. If discipline exceeds a two-game suspension, Petitti would need approval from the Big Ten's Joint Group Executive Committee, which can approve, deny or reduce a penalty proposed by Petitti.

Michigan will "look into every option to protect due process" if Petitti imposes discipline, ESPN reported via a source familiar with the situation.

The Wolverines are No. 3 in the latest CFP rankings and improved to 9-0 with their win over the Boilermakers. Michigan's two biggest games on their 2023 schedule come in the next three weeks – next weekend at No. 11 Penn State and a Nov. 25 showdown with No. 1 Ohio State in Ann Arbor.

Three more victories would put Michigan in a position to win the Big Ten championship and return to the CFP for a third consecutive season. However, those accomplishments have been questioned and criticized amid mounting evidence that Michigan obtained opponents' signals by breaking rules prohibiting in-person scouting.

On Saturday, Harbaugh said his team has been and will be galvanized by such criticism.

“The guys are such stalwarts,” he said. “The comments keep coming about why they’re good, how they’re good. They’re just good.”

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