Mandel: Michigan sign-stealing scandal reaches new low as coaches and boosters linked

Mandel: Michigan sign-stealing scandal reaches new low as coaches and boosters linked

As it turns out, Michigan’s administration and its lawyers were quite right last week when they accused the Big Ten of acting hastily in issuing its three-game suspension of Jim Harbaugh: The Big Ten should have waited a week for the next shoe to drop in the Wolverines’ personal scouting scandal.

Michigan on Thursday abruptly withdrew its furious filing for a temporary restraining order against the Big Ten and Commissioner Tony Pettitte, apparently deciding that Harbaugh’s suspension no longer qualified as “irreparable harm.” It made more sense 24 hours later, when the school suddenly fired running backs coach Chris Partridge. The athlete Austin Meek reported that Michigan sources believe Partridge interfered in the NCAA’s investigation into Michigan’s alleged personal scouting scheme, but did not specify whether he was directly involved.

As Yahoo reported, the NCAA turned over new evidence to the school this week alleging that a booster named “Uncle T” — an absolute classic for a cheating booster name — helped fund employee Connor Stallions’ scheme to buy tickets to rivals’ games and recruit them. People to photograph the opposing sideline. Partridge, who previous reports indicated was close to Stallions, allegedly covered up computer evidence after the incident, according to Yahoo. The athleteLater Friday, Katie Strang spoke with Tim Smith, the booster associated with the “Uncle T” identity. Smith admitted to having contact with the Stallions but denied any wrongdoing.

From the beginning, this was not a story about sign stealing, a common practice in college football. The numerous accounts of the Stallions’ grandiose scheme — including radio footage of a man who closely resembled Stallions dressing as a Central Michigan employee on the sidelines of the season opener — were more comedic than offensive. No one goes to jail for stealing signs. No one died.

It was the brazenness of the operation, openly challenging long-standing NCAA rule, all conveniently documented in a “master spreadsheet” handed over to NCAA officials by a mysterious investigator, that angered people across the sport.

Now, new emerging details take this scandal to another level.

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If standard sign stealing is the football equivalent of going 70 mph in a 65 mph zone, doing so through illicit personal scouting is like driving 90 mph. Sorry, sir, but we have to give you a ticket. When you throw in a bad-faith booster — a longtime scourge of NCAA investigators — and an assistant who is allegedly interfering with the investigation? Or cover it with evidence? We’ve now reached “go straight to jail, don’t collect $200” territory.

All of this makes Michigan’s original scorched-earth, self-abuse response to Harbaugh’s comment even more isolated and confusing than it was at the time.

First, the school took its conference to court, portraying itself as merely noble defenders of the right to “due process,” rather than deliberately obfuscating and delaying, for example, an attempt to push any potential sanctions beyond its continued championship quest.

“Shooting first, asking questions later, is a blatant violation of basic justice,” the attorneys wrote in their motion last Friday for a temporary restraining order, which the judge granted until a hearing that was scheduled for a week later.

then, Athletic director Manuel responded spitting hot fire in a statement issued shortly before the Penn State game last Saturday: “Not liking someone or another university, believing without any evidence that they knew or saying that someone should have known without An investigation, not a reason.” To remove someone from office before the NCAA has reached a conclusion through the full NCAA investigative process.

Manuel went on to mock Big Ten coaches and fellow ADs who “can rejoice today because someone has been held accountable.” It’s the kind of rhetoric you’d expect from someone only if they thought their closet was spotless.

But you can understand why Manuel and his Michigan brethren would have preferred that Pettitte refrain from using his open athletic powers and leave the dirty work to the NCAA. After all, the NCAA’s enforcement division has been ineffective over the years at discovering much of anything without the help of the FBI or the media. Its infractions committee is so routinely beaten by schools’ lawyers that it failed to convict North Carolina State of academic fraud for 18 years of academic fraud.

But ha! It appears that NCAA investigators actually proved they could catch someone — specifically Partridge, who Yahoo reported was not believed to have had prior knowledge of Stallions’ scheme but who later tried to destroy computer files documenting it. Without knowing what the NCAA might reveal yet, one thing is clear. Harbaugh’s game-day suspension was a slap on the wrist compared to some of the alternatives that Pettitte would now be fully justified in imposing — had the conference not agreed Thursday, when Michigan dropped its case, to close the investigation.

The main reason Petitti participated instead of waiting for the NCAA was because the Stallions had recently been buying tickets for the Penn State-Ohio State game on October 21. In his official notice to Manuel last week announcing Harbaugh’s suspension, Petitti wrote, in part, “enforce the sportsmanship policy with appropriate discipline.” this chapter In light of the violations proven at the university this chapter It is therefore important to protect the reputation of the Conference and its member institutions and to ensure that our competitions in the field are honorable and fair.

Although fully acknowledging that the league “has not yet received any information indicating that Football Coach Harbaugh was aware of the impermissible (scheme),” it chose the penalty it imposed because it “preserves the ability of the university’s football student-athletes to continue The competition”. “.

Thus, he refrained from resorting to a more impactful penalty, such as Michigan having to forfeit games and/or being made ineligible for the conference championship game. But the NCAA may already have enough evidence to impose something harsher — though not for a year or two, after the arduous violations process ends.

Harbaugh may not have been specifically aware of Stallions’ actions, but just two months ago, after returning from his first three-game suspension, he pledged that the program would become the “gold standard” for rule compliance. This, like so many things that have come out of Michigan men’s mouths lately, now seems laughable. If anything, Michigan has become the most maverick program in the sport.

Among the headlines surrounding the Wolverines over the past year: the NCAA’s original investigation into impermissible recruiting during the 2020-21 coronavirus dead period; The firing of co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss in January over alleged computer access crimes that the FBI is now investigating; Harbaugh hired assistant recruiting manager Shimmy Schembechler, Beau’s son, only to fire him three days later after internet sleuths uncovered a raft of racist comments he had “liked” on Twitter; And now…all of this.

Over the past week, the Michigan community has leaned heavily on the “Michigan vs. the World” slogan, which has become a popular selling T-shirt. Maybe that rallying cry will help the Wolverines take down Ohio State next weekend. But Michigan doesn’t seem to need any motivational help when it comes to committing bad deeds.

(Top photo of Jim Harbaugh: Robert Goodin/USA Today)

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