EAST LANSING, MI – Come on, question Michigan’s integrity.
Jim Harbaugh was accused of ignoring the NCAA rule book. Cry about signals being stolen or analysts overstepping their bounds. Root for the Big Ten’s arrogant program to get its comeuppance. The Wolverine family has made one thing abundantly clear: they… Do. no. Care.
“You see it all over social media,” right guard Zach Zinter said. “People throw different things at us, NCAA, whatever. They can demand, do anything, say anything. We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing.”
What they’re doing is destroying every Big Ten team in their path. No. 2 Michigan (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) did it again on Saturday night, beating Michigan State 49-0 after another week shrouded in controversy.
News broke two days ago that the NCAA was investigating Michigan for possible violations of a rule prohibiting personal scouting by future opponents. On Friday afternoon, Michigan suspended the employment of analyst Connor Stallions, a hire known for his prowess at stealing signs.
Clearly, the Stallions were not essential to Michigan’s success. The Wolverines still have JJ McCarthy and one of the best defenses in the FBS, and that was more than enough to beat Michigan State. Like all the competitors before them, the Spartans ran into Michigan and didn’t stand a chance.
“They were a real buzz saw,” Harbaugh said.
The Wolverines haven’t made many friends around the Big Ten while winning 20 straight conference games. Teams who suspected there was something fishy about Michigan’s sign-stealing operation certainly felt some satisfaction when news of the NCAA investigation came out publicly.
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Some of that is sour grapes. Some of it is undoubtedly a reaction to the way Michigan handles itself as a program. For a team that prides itself on doing things the right way, Michigan seems to end up in the middle of a lot of controversy. The program has a Bullseye on its back, both from its Big Ten and NCAA rivals.
“There is a purpose, yes,” Harbaugh said. “Everyone has pointed that out since the start of the season. Our guys are very focused. They’re just going about their business.”
It will take more than two or three investigations to crack Michigan. The Wolverines play through investigations the way other teams play through ankle sprains. This doesn’t bother them.
Michigan was already under investigation for alleged Level II violations that included impermissible contact with recruits during the COVID-19 dead period and impermissible use of analysts for field training. Harbaugh was charged with failure to cooperate with the investigation and was suspended by the school for three games to start the season.
That was after co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss was fired in January amid a police investigation into suspicious computer activity at Schembechler Hall. The program now faces another NCAA investigation tied to alleged violations of the personal scouting rule.
Discussing the ethics of personal exploration is like discussing the ethics of traffic interference: whether it’s ethical or not, it’s against the rules, and that’s what matters. If the Wolverines violate rules involving in-person scouting or video recording, they should be penalized. If Harbaugh knew about such abuses — and he says he did not — he should be held accountable.
Neither Michigan nor the NCAA deserve the benefit of the doubt here. Both have shown themselves to be fallible in different ways. The NCAA bears the burden of proving its case, either through video evidence or written communications. People rightly question the NCAA’s ability to dispense justice. Just look at the Kansas basketball investigation, which lasted six years and ended without a whimper.
Even if these investigations do not result in meaningful penalties, they drain time and resources. They have cast a cloud of doubt over the people and programs involved. They tarnish reputations and belittle achievements.
It may be months or years before the full story emerges. Meanwhile, Michigan has games to play and another Big Ten Championship to chase. The Wolverines are adept at ignoring claims and innuendo, perhaps because they’ve had a lot of practice.
“All the outside distractions, the allegations against Coach Harbaugh, don’t do anything for us,” McCarthy said. “We’re just trying to play ball and have fun with our boys. We’re just keeping it pretty simple.”
This week has already been emotionally charged after last year’s game against Michigan State ended with a violent scene in the Michigan Stadium tunnel. Two Michigan players were injured in that encounter, including cornerback Jaden McBrose, who had his first career interception in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game. Leading up to the game, the Wolverines claimed they didn’t talk about the tunnel. After McBuruses made this objection, they acknowledged that it may have happened once or twice.
“I know how he felt,” said defensive back Mike Sinristil, who earned his second pick of the season. “I felt it too. I was very happy for him. All week long he was talking about different things. He mentioned what happened last year a few different times. The coaches and us as players told him: When you get your chance, just go out there and make plays.”
When Michigan went into halftime with a 28-0 lead, Harbaugh told the Wolverines to “leave no doubt.” McCarthy said it was in response to spoiling their lead on their recent trip to Michigan State, not any attempt to make a point about the sign-stealing allegations.
Even if they didn’t try, the Wolverines sent a message. They outscored their top seven opponents 93-0 in the third quarter, a statistic that was cited after sign-stealing allegations surfaced. Is Michigan good at halftime adjustments? Or maybe the Wolverines are taking some unfair advantage?
The third quarter scoring margin is 107-0 after Saturday’s game. Any Michigan State fans who were hoping the Wolverines would collapse without the help of their sign-stealing network went home sorely disappointed.
“Put all that stuff aside: We take our 11th to 11th of anyone else in the country on offense, defense and special teams,” AJ Barner said.
You would be hard pressed to find a team anywhere in the country that plays better than Michigan. Six people on The athleteAn eight-person committee picked Michigan to win the national championship, and the Wolverines certainly looked like the turn again Saturday night.
Regardless of the investigations, the Wolverines are being tough on the rest of the Big Ten. And they will continue to do this until someone stops them.
(Top Image: Gregory Shamos/Getty)
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