Big Ten Reportedly Considering Multi-Game Jim Harbaugh Suspension, Michigan Expected to Respond with Legal Action

By Dan Hope on November 6, 2023 at 5:12 pm
Jim Harbaugh and Connor Stalions during the 2022 Ohio State/Michigan game

A Jim Harbaugh suspension could be coming from the Big Ten this week.

Yahoo Sports’ Ross Dellenger and Dan Wetzel reported Monday that the Big Ten is considering “a multi-game suspension” for the Michigan coach amid the NCAA’s investigation into the Wolverines’ alleged sign-stealing scheme.

Per multiple reports, Michigan received a notice of allegations from the Big Ten on Monday, though that notice did not indicate what penalties the conference could administer.

No league-administered punishments against Michigan are expected to be announced before Wednesday, as conference rules give the school 48 hours to respond to the notice of allegations.

With potential sanctions looming, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel – a member of this year’s College Football Playoff selection committee – announced Monday he will not travel to Texas to participate in this week’s CFP rankings meeting.

Yahoo, McMurphy and ESPN’s Pete Thamel have all reported that Michigan is expected to take legal action if a suspension is issued against Harbaugh. That could mean seeking a temporary restraining order that would prevent the suspension from being enforced and allow Harbaugh to continue coaching this season.

From Yahoo Sports:

The legal avenues available to the university and/or Harbaugh are clear, said Mit Winter, a sports attorney based in Kansas City who has handled NCAA-related cases in the past. They can seek a temporary restraining order to prevent any suspension from taking effect.

“The school or Harbaugh would have to prevent a cause of action,” Winter said. “That could be a lack of due-process claim or a failure to follow procedural rules.”

Temporary restraining orders, commonly referred to as TROs, are often filed for emergency purposes and are ruled upon quickly. In fact, TROs can be granted without the other party present or even making arguments, Winter said.

While the NCAA’s investigation into Michigan is not expected to conclude before the end of this season, the Big Ten’s sportsmanship policy allows the conference to issue its own punishment against the Wolverines. Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti is authorized to issue suspensions of up to two games or fines up to $10,000, but any punishment beyond that would be subject to approval from the Big Ten’s Joint Group Executive Committee.

Petitti met with Michigan officials, including university president Santa Ono, in Ann Arbor on Friday. That came after calls between Petitti and the Big Ten’s coaches and athletic directors earlier in the week in which leaders from around the conference reportedly urged the commissioner to take action against Michigan. 

Connor Stalions, who allegedly led Michigan’s sign-stealing operation, resigned his position with the Wolverines on Friday after initially being suspended with pay. Per Yahoo’s report, “Stalions is believed to have used as many as 65 associates to scout games.” While sign stealing in itself is not prohibited by the NCAA, Stalions and his associates have been accused of attending opponents’ games in person and filming opponents’ signals, both of which are prohibited by the NCAA.

Harbaugh has claimed he was unaware of the alleged sign-stealing scheme, saying in a statement on Oct. 19 that he did “not have any knowledge or information regarding the University of Michigan football program illegally stealing signals, nor have I directed any staff member or others to participate in an off-campus scouting assignment.” That said, Harbaugh can be found culpable for NCAA violations committed by his staff if it is determined he should have been aware violations were occurring even if it is not proven he was directly involved in the scheme.

Michigan’s counterargument to any discipline levied by the Big Ten against it could revolve around the notion that other teams were also stealing its signs. Larry Lage of the Associated Press reported Monday that a former employee from another Big Ten football program shared with Michigan a spreadsheet of play-calling signals used by the Wolverines that he compiled, as well as screenshots of text messages with staffers at other Big Ten schools who helped him compile that spreadsheet. However, it is unclear whether any other Big Ten schools engaged in prohibited actions in order to compile those signals.

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