Ex-CFB staffer shared docs with Michigan, showing a Big Ten team had Wolverines’ signs

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Nov. 6, 2023 7:08 p.m. ET

A former employee at a Big Ten football program said Monday it was his job to steal signs, and he was given details from multiple league schools to compile a spreadsheet of play-calling signals used by Michigan last year.

The employee said he recently shared the documents, which showed the Wolverines’ signs and corresponding plays — as well as screenshots of text-message exchanges with staffers at other Big Ten schools — with Michigan. He spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he feared the disclosures could impact his coaching career.

The spreadsheet was compiled with details from a handful of coaches and programs across the Big Ten, the person said. He also said he gave the details to Michigan last week because he hoped it would help Jim Harbaugh’s embattled program, and he believes Harbaugh and his coaches are being unfairly blamed for the actions of a rogue staffer.

The alleged actions by conference schools potentially violate the Big Ten’s sportsmanship policy, which could lead to punishment by the commissioner’s office. Harbaugh’s program also faces that possibility.

No. 2 Michigan (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) is already the subject of an NCAA investigation into an alleged impermissible, in-person scouting and sign-stealing scheme. A former low-level staffer, Connor Stalions, allegedly attended and also sent people to opponents’ games to record video that was used to decode their in-game signals.

The scandal has loomed over Harbaugh’s team as it chases a third straight conference championship and the school’s first national title since 1997. Michigan plays at No. 9 Penn State on Saturday.

The NCAA doesn’t outlaw sign-stealing, but it has rules against in-person scouting and some of the allegations against Michigan suggest an organized and well-funded approach. Harbaugh has denied any knowledge of the scheme and the school says it is cooperating with the NCAA.

Last week, Stalions resigned two weeks after he was suspended by Michigan. Stalions’ attorney said his client did not want to be a distraction for the team.

Michigan shared the documents from the former Big Ten football program staffer and related content with the Big Ten on Friday, according to a person familiar with the situation speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to share the details.

On the same day, school President Santa Ono and athletic director Warde Manuel met with Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti.

The conference gave the school until early this week to respond to allegations and evidence it was presented, another person with knowledge of the situation said. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the Big Ten was not making its dealings with Michigan public.

Petitti met by video call with Big Ten coaches and athletic directors last week, and they talked about possible punishments for Michigan, focusing on a potential suspension of Harbaugh and other coaches.

Ono sent an email to Petitti, imploring the conference to wait for results of the NCAA investigation before potentially taking action against the program. Big Ten coaches have called for some kind of immediate punishment, but the league, according to Ono, has not begun its own investigation.

“We are aware that other representatives of the Big Ten are demanding that you take action now, before any meaningful investigation and full consideration of all the evidence,” Ono wrote to Petitti. “And we both know it is not what any other member would want if allegations were raised against their people or programs.”

Will the Big Ten punish Michigan before the NCAA investigation is complete?

Stalions said, via his attorney, that to his knowledge none of the Michigan coaches told anyone to break rules or were aware of improper conduct when it came to advance scouting. Harbaugh served a three-game, university-imposed suspension earlier this season for an unrelated and still unresolved NCAA violations case tied to recruiting.

Earlier Monday, Central Michigan athletic director Amy Folan said the school was still reviewing whether Stalions was on the sideline during the Chippewas’ season-opener at Michigan State. Central Michigan is now cooperating with the NCAA, she said.

Images of a person in Central Michigan gear, wearing a hat and sunglasses during the night game, circulated on social media last week and prompted the school to look into it.

Reporting by The Associated Press. 

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