It took just three weeks for the Big Ten to determine Michigan had violated the league’s Sportsmanship Policy after it was informed by the NCAA that the Wolverines were under investigation for an impermissible sign-stealing scheme.
NCAA president Charlie Baker informed the Big Ten on Oct. 18 that the NCAA “had received highly credible evidence of a wide-ranging, multi-year in-person, off-campus scouting scheme orchestrated by a noncoaching staff member of the University’s football program,” Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti wrote in his official notice of disciplinary action to Michigan on Friday, when the league announced it was suspending Jim Harbaugh from coaching in games for the remainder of the regular season.
According to Petitti, the fact that the NCAA felt the need to inform the Big Ten about the investigation immediately underscored the severity of the allegations against Michigan, leading to the conference taking swift action against the Wolverines.
“It is rare and outside the NCAA’s typical protocols for the NCAA to disclose information about an active investigation to institutions other than the institution under investigation. However, the NCAA stated and believed that the disclosure was necessary due to the unprecedented scope of the then-alleged scheme, and because of the significant impact the impermissible scheme could have on competition during the current football season,” Petitti wrote. “It was also extraordinary that the NCAA President arranged for and participated in the call, underscoring not only the severity of the allegations but the immediate impacts. All of these circumstances were a clear statement from the NCAA that the nature and reliability of the evidence they had received indicated that the improper scheme relating to the University’s football team was ongoing and created a substantial risk of compromising the integrity of football competitions this season.”
Friday’s 13-page official notice of disciplinary action also revealed the evidence the Big Ten has collected against Michigan to determine that the Wolverines violated the league’s Sportsmanship Policy.
Michigan’s “master spreadsheet” details sign-stealing activities
The NCAA obtained what it described as a “master spreadsheet” from Michigan that “included a very large amount of detailed information regarding the impermissible scheme.” Per the notice of disciplinary action, the spreadsheet included the following items:
- a large and detailed chart listing the names of various individuals assigned to attend past and future football games involving the University’s scheduled football opponents
- similar in-person attendance assignments for past and future games involving highlyranked, non-conference football opponents (presumably potential University football opponents in post-season games)
- notations showing whether in-person attendance at non-conference games would be necessary depending on different win/loss scenarios
- the 2023 game schedules of the university’s scheduled football opponents
- color-coding to reflect past games actually attended by assigned individuals and future games for which individual assignments were still needed
- the names of individuals assigned to certain cities and locations
- monetary amounts associated with certain assigned games
Connor Stalions’ name was “prevalent” in the master spreadsheet, per the league’s disciplinary notice.
Between Oct. 20 and Nov. 4, the Big Ten received additional documentation from conference numbers that indicated Stalions purchased tickets to at least four games in 2021, 13 games in 2022 and five games in 2023 involving future Michigan opponents at other Big Ten schools. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey also informed the Big Ten that Stalions purchased tickets to the SEC Championship Game.
The Big Ten also reviewed photos and videos that showed Stalions interacting with Michigan coaches during games, including a photo of him standing next to then-Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald during a game against Wisconsin in 2021, a video of Stalions watching Ohio State’s sideline and subsequently gesturing to Michigan’s defense during the 2022 edition of The Game and a video of Stalions standing alongside current defensive coordinator Jesse Minter during Michigan’s 2022 College Football Playoff loss to TCU.
The NCAA informed the Big Ten on Nov. 2 that it “knew and could prove” that Stalions partook in the following actions:
- the staff member participated in and coordinated a vast off-campus, in-person advance scouting scheme involving a network of individuals
- he purchased and forwarded tickets for games involving future university football opponents, and the tickets were for seats strategically located for stealing the future opponents’ signs
- he and others acting at his direction video recorded signs used by future university opponents while attending the opponents’ games in person
- information, including videos of future opponents’ signs, was delivered back to the staff member by those who had attended the games and taken the videos at his direction
- during the time in question, including through the university’s seventh game of the 2023 season, the staff member was present on the university’s sidelines, dressed similarly to university coaches, in close proximity to university coaches, and he communicated directly with such coaches.
Given that, Petitti felt comfortable taking action against Michigan now, even though the NCAA has not yet concluded its investigation.
“To be clear, neither I nor the Conference reached this determination based on ‘rumor’ or mere ‘summaries and descriptions’ of evidence, as the University contends in its response,” Pettiti wrote. “The Conference has received and reviewed extensive documentation and information during the course of its investigation. This includes the Master Spreadsheet and other documents and information that the NCAA made available to the University and which the Conference now has in its possession, notwithstanding the University’s initial refusal to consent to the Conference obtaining such materials from the NCAA.
“The Conference takes exception to the University’s suggestion in its response that any determination in this matter is based on ‘prejudgment and bias.’ The Conference does not play favorites among its members, nor does it take actions towards its members based on prejudgment or bias. Failing to act under the extraordinary circumstances here could lead other Conference members reasonably to conclude that the Conference has chosen to favor the University over all other members.”