As most sports fans know by now one of college football’s best teams and most storied programs, and a rival of Penn State Football, is embroiled in a cheating scandal for stealing signs from opposing teams.
In case you’re one of those people who are aghast when a story like this breaks involving a major sports brand let me help you out. It happens at most programs, big or small, in some sort of way, big or small. Yes, even the most perceived squeaky clean programs find ways to gild the lily from time to time.
The New England Patriots were busted more than once for illegally taping opposing team’s practices back in 2007 but had allegedly been doing it since 2000.
The Patriots won three Super Bowls during that time.
Meanwhile, the Houston Astros were found guilty of an elaborate scheme to steal signs from opposing pitchers back in 2017, the same year they went on to win their first ever World Series Championship.
Major League Baseball endured many years of an epic steroid era dating back to the late 90’s.
Doping, point shaving, ball deflating, spitballs, pine tar, stickum, dumping games, it’s all been done before.
It is very rare in professional team sports however for the penalty for cheating to be very severe.
Draft picks, fines and suspensions are the usual punishment handed down from the respective commissioners. But, the Patriots and Astros and everyone who ever stuck a needle in their backside all got to keep their rings.
However, at the college level it could be a different story.
The over-officious suits from the NCAA have been known to vacate games, trophies and records in the past as well as stripping teams of scholarships and or banning them from playing in a post-season bowl.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this particular scandal at Michigan plays out.
At the heart of the alleged scandal is someone that the University refers to as a low level staffer named Connor Stalions. The United States Marine Corps veteran, was outed as the alleged mastermind behind the scheme. On his now-deleted LinkedIn profile Stalions fancies himself as skilled in “identifying the opponent’s most likely course of action and most dangerous course of action.”
Well, if I knew what plays the other team was about to run I’m pretty sure I could do that too. Unless Stalions is related to Charlie Babbitt you have to wonder how he acquired such a rare, sought after, self-proclaimed skill set.
Michigan suspended him with pay on October 20 for the duration of the NCAA’s investigation into the alleged sign stealing.
Sign-stealing alone is not an NCAA violation, but NCAA Bylaw 11.6.1 states that “off-campus, in-person scouting of future opponents (in the same season) is prohibited.
Stalions is technically part of the scouting department for the Wolverines but appears to be rather ambitious and overzealous for a “low level staffer.”
An October 25 article in Sports Illustrated reported that Stalions claimed to be in possession of a 550-600 page “Michigan Manifesto” with plans for how to run the program in the future.
I wonder what their “high level staffers” are capable of if they put their minds to it?
Currently a guy by the name of Jim Harbaugh is a pretty high level staffer who runs the Michigan program.
The head coach, who has been entangled with the NCAA recently has denied any knowledge of any alleged sign stealing but since he is the over-seer of all things blue and maize I’m not sure his denials are going to get him any where should this little time bomb decide to go off in the midst of an undefeated season thus far.
The Wolverines are currently ranked No. 2 in the country and are looking to get back to the College Football Playoff for the third consecutive year.
Stalions bought tickets for more than 30 games at 12 of the possible 13 Big Ten stadiums and four tickets to games featuring out-of-conference College Football Playoff contenders over a three-year period, according to reports.
Yahoo reported that Stalions purchased a ticket to a Tennessee game late last October when the Volunteers were in the College Football Playoff picture.
“He spearheads the operation,” a Big Ten coach told Yahoo last week about Stalions. “I once told him, ‘We know what kind of s–t you are doing and it’s f–ed up.”
“I have no awareness of anyone on our staff having done that or having directed that action,” Harbaugh said in a statement, per ESPN. “No matter what program or organization that I have led throughout my career, my instructions and awareness of how we scout opponents have always been firmly within the rules.”
Okay, got it Jimbo.
Sounds like you must just have a rogue “low level staffer” who has taken it upon himself to put your entire operation in jeopardy of getting shut down.
ESPN reported Michigan’s alleged scheme dates back to 2021 and has been described as “elaborate.”
“(Stalions) had one role,” a source told ESPN.
Yahoo reported Ohio State staffers knew of Stalions potentially stealing signs before last year’s game, a game in which Michigan won 45-23.
“This is worse than both the Astros and the Patriots — it’s both use of technology for a competitive advantage and there’s allegations that they are filming prior games, not just in-game,” the source told ESPN.
It has also been reported that the NCAA has been sent a video that is at least an hour in length showing a person in the stands at a game appearing to record the home sideline with a phone. The ticket was purchased by Stalions.
According to sources the investigation could be wrapped up before the College Football Playoff.
If I’m Michigan I would have fired Stalions way before the story broke because apparently he scouted every top-10 team in the country last year except TCU!
The Horned Frogs knocked the Wolverines out of the College Football Playoff with a 51-45 victory in the National Semi-Final game last December, their only loss of the season.
How Michigan Scandal Impacts Penn State Football
So, what does any of this mean for Penn State?
Well, I made an official prediction with my editor a couple of weeks ago when we were brain-storming story ideas.
I predicted that Nits’s defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will be the next head coach at the University of Michigan.
I feel even stronger about my prediction since this cheating scandal broke.
I thought Harbaugh might finally get that ring he has been chasing for so many years in Ann Arbor this year. If that was to happen I would think that he would want to return to the NFL to take care of some unfinished business.
Harbaugh came within a few yards of winning a Super Bowl back in 2012 when he was head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. No top tier coaching candidate with half a brain is going to take an NFL head coaching job without a franchise quarterback in place.
I don’t think Chargers head coach Brandon Staley will be retained after the disastrous year he’s having this season, a season that is still stinging following a 27 point collapse to the Jaguars in last year’s playoffs.
With Justin Herbert firmly ensconced at the helm in L.A. I think that the Chargers would be a perfect fit for Captain Comeback as he was known when he was quarterbacking the Colts in the mid 90’s.
Harbaugh also played for the Chargers in 1999-2000.
But, now in the wake of these allegations of nefarious behavior in Wolverine land I think Harbaugh, win or lose, might deem it time to high tail it for the NFL with the NCAA suits bearing down on him (See Pete Carroll and Chip Kelly).
If that happens I think Diaz would be a top candidate to replace Harbaugh, as he’s having one of his finest seasons as a defensive coordinator in Happy Valley.
Diaz also does have head coaching on his resume at a big time program when he was the head guy in Miami a few years ago and God knows they’ve never had scandal issues down there. Stay tuned.