In an email sent last Friday to Michigan’s athletic director, Warde Manuel, the conference alleged that the university breached the Big Ten’s sportsmanship policy. According to the conference, a football staff member from the university was involved in a prolonged, organized, in-person advance scouting scheme, which was deemed impermissible.
As a result of this violation, Jim Harbaugh, the head coach, is permitted to participate in practices and other team activities but is barred from being present in the stadium on game days, as outlined in the conference’s statement.
The incident revolves around “sign-stealing,” the collection of information on the signs used by a team for offensive and defensive plays. While NCAA rules don’t explicitly prohibit sign-stealing unless electronic communication is intercepted during the game, in-person scouting is expressly forbidden.
The disciplinary action is directed at the university, not specifically at Coach Harbaugh. The conference acknowledges that further disciplinary measures might be warranted pending additional information about the extent of, awareness of, or participation in the impermissible scheme.
Harbaugh, denying any illegal activity, stated that he and his coaching staff would fully cooperate with the investigation. He emphasized his commitment to following NCAA rules throughout his career and expressed non-tolerance for any illegal actions.
Following the Big Ten’s investigation announcement, the University of Michigan swiftly filed an emergency motion seeking a temporary restraining order against the ban on Harbaugh. The motion named the Big Ten Conference and Commissioner Tony Petitti as defendants, with the university expressing disappointment in what they saw as a hasty judgment by Petitti.
The university argued that they, like all Big Ten Conference members, deserve a fair and thorough process to establish the facts before any judgment is made. They criticized the Commissioner’s decision as disregarding the conference’s own handbook, violating due process, and setting an undesirable precedent of imposing penalties before completing an investigation.
In response, the Big Ten Conference expressed disappointment over the university’s decision to seek a temporary restraining order. The outcome of the court’s ruling on the request and its potential impact on the ban remains uncertain.