Big Ten Suspends Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh For Remainder of 2023 Season

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has been suspended by the Big Ten Conference for the remainder of the 2023 regular season for violations of the league’s sportsmanship policy.

Matt Stevens, IlliniGuys Staff Writer

November 10, 2023

The Big Ten Conference has suspended Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh for the remainder of the 2023 regular season.

After obtaining several pieces of evidence over the last few weeks and multiple back-and-forth correspondence between league officials and the University of Michigan athletics department, the Big Ten concluded the Wolverines football program committed multiple violations of the league’s sportsmanship policy amid the ongoing NCAA investigation into the school's in-person, off-campus sign-stealing operation.

According to the media release and the letter sent from Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti to Michigan athletics director Ward Manuel, Michigan was found to be in violation of the Big Ten Sportsmanship Policy for “conducting an impermissible, in-person scouting operation over multiple years, resulting in an unfair competitive advantage that compromised the integrity of competition”. Petitti’s letter specifies that league officials obtained documentation that indicates during the 2021, 2022, and 2023 football seasons, now-former Michigan football staff member Connor Stalions purchased tickets for off campus football games involving future Michigan opponents, including at least four games in 2021, thirteen games in 2022, and five games during the first seven weeks of the 2023 season and the tickets were strategically located near midfield, facing the future opponents’ sidelines.

The University of Illinois athletics ticket office confirmed to IlliniGuys.com Wednesday evening via the result of a public information request that Stalions, the now-former Michigan staff member at the center of this sign-stealing investigation by the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference, used his own name to purchase tickets to three Illinois home games inside Memorial Stadium.

According to the response sent to IlliniGuys.com following a Freedom of Information Act request sent out on Oct. 25, Stallions used his own name, address and email to purchase tickets through the University of Illinois athletics website to the Illini’s 2021 season opener against Nebraska on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021 - which is the first game Illinois head coach Bret Bielema took over the Illini program. Stalions also purchased tickets to an Illinois home game on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, against Maryland. Finally, Stalions purchased seats at Memorial Stadium for a game on Saturday Nov. 12, 2022, against Purdue. The 31-24 loss to Purdue on Nov. 12 was one week prior to Illinois traveling to play then No. 3 Michigan where the undefeated Wolverines escaped with a 19-17 win in Michigan’s closest margin on their way to a 2022 Big Ten Conference championship and College Football Playoff berth.

Sign-stealing in college football is not prohibited, but NCAA Bylaw 11.6.1 prohibits any in-person scouting of future opponents. Stallions has been accused of in-person scouting opponents in advance and having other people video-record opponents’ sidelines in an effort to steal signs. Both of those actions are directly in violation of NCAA rules.

Harbaugh’s suspension, which will be his second suspension of this season, only prohibits him from the sideline on game day, as he's allowed to coach the team the remainder of the week. Sources close to the Wolverines head coach have indicated to numerous media outlets that Harbaugh's status for Michigan's game against Penn State could come down to a court ruling, as Harbaugh and University of Michigan athletics department have been preparing to legally fight any decision by the Big Ten office that involves punitive discipline with most likely avenue would being a temporary restraining order, which could allow Harbaugh to coach tomorrow as No. 3 Michigan plays at No. 10 Penn State.

Michigan has three games remaining in the 2023 regular season: Saturday at Penn State, at Maryland and finally against Ohio State in the season finale in Ann Arbor.

The off-campus signal-stealing investigation is the second ongoing NCAA probe involving In August, after being notified of an NCAA investigation involving alleged recruiting violations during the COVID-19 dead period, Michigan self-imposed a three-game suspension for Harbaugh to begin the 2023 season, as well as one-game suspensions for offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore and assistant coach Grant Newsome.

Petitti’s letter to Michigan confirms a league call took place on Nov. 2 involving all of the Big Ten athletics directors “to brief them on the meeting with the NCAA and (Michigan officials). Concerns were expressed about the continuing disadvantage of the (Michigan’s) opponents because they could no longer rely on their previous system of signs. Concerns were also expressed that there remained a greater risk to safety if (Michigan’s) football team had been more effective at stealing future opponents’ signs through impermissible in-person scouting.”

Petitti’s letter goes on to confirm that on Nov. 8 Michigan officials delivered their official response to the league’s evidence and accusations that including a Michigan argument argued that “it believed it had evidence of other (Big Ten programs) engaging in impermissible in-person sign-stealing, and therefore urged the (Big Ten) to “act cautiously”— essentially an argument that violations of the Sportsmanship Rule should be overlooked if ‘everyone is doing it’.”

In his final weekly media availability on Thursday morning, Illinois third-year head coach Bret Bielema described the allegations of Michigan’s off-campus sign stealing operation as “disgusting” and “sickening" was asked about the investigation into the Michigan football program sign-stealing probe by the NCAA and Big Ten Conference and expressed his extreme displeasure with the idea of University of Michigan football personnel being at in attendance at Memorial Stadium to scout games.

“Listen, when the point and time comes where I can say something, I’ll have a lot to say. I went into this conference. I played in this conference. I [have been a head coach] in this conference at two different schools,” Bielema said. “We share. We got buddies that work at other teams or conferences but if something was going on off campus that it’s been noted that they were at our games before we played that game last year, that opens up a whole, that’s sickening. That’s disgusting. I’ll let them figure that part out,” Bielema said Thursday morning after his team’s practice session. “As coaches, I think we just gotta hold the integrity of the league and say that we feel like everybody is playing by the same rules and kind of go forward from there.”

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