Pete ThamelESPNNov 1, 2023, 11:56 PM ET3 Minute Read
A vast majority of the Big Ten coaches expressed their frustrations with the ongoing signal-stealing investigation at Michigan in a video call with commissioner Tony Petitti on Wednesday, sources told ESPN.
The call, which took 90 minutes, included nearly an hour without Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who hung up after the regularly scheduled Big Ten business to allow the conference’s coaches to speak freely about the NCAA’s investigation into Michigan.
According to five sources familiar with the call, a chorus of voices encouraged Petitti to take action against Michigan in a call that was described as both intense and emotional.
“Collectively, the coaches want the Big Ten to act — right now,” said a source familiar with the call. “What are we waiting for? We know what happened.”
The NCAA has been investigating Michigan for nearly two weeks, as the Big Ten confirmed the NCAA’s sign-stealing investigation on Oct. 19. Since that time, ESPN has reported that Michigan staffer Connor Stalions emerged as a centerpiece of the investigation and has purchased tickets to the games of 12 of 13 Big Ten opponents over the last three years.
Overall, Stalions has purchased tickets to more than 35 games in at least 17 stadiums over the last three years, ESPN reported. Michigan suspended Stallions the same day ESPN reported he was the center of the investigation. A former Division III coach also told ESPN he was paid by Stals to video games at multiple Big Ten schools.
The coaches in the Big Ten laid out to Petitti, who was hired in April, just how distinct of a schematic advantage Michigan has held the last three years by illegally obtaining the opposition’s signals ahead of time, as has been alleged.
Coaches used words like “tainted,” “fraudulent” and “unprecedented” on the call to describe Michigan’s signal-stealing scheme, as has been alleged. Much of the call, according to sources, was coaches explaining to Petitti both how it worked and how it impacted them and their programs. Both in-person opponent scouting and using electronic equipment to steal signals are not allowed by NCAA rules.
In the three years that Stalions left a paper trail of purchasing tickets to games of Michigan opponents, the Wolverines have gone 33-3 overall and 22-1 in Big Ten play. In the prior three years, they were 21-11 overall and 16-8 in league play.
“People don’t understand the seriousness of it,” said another source. “How it truly impacted the game plan. To truly know if it’s a run or a pass, people don’t understand how much of an advantage that was for Michigan.”
There was anger interspersed throughout the call, as one source described the sentiment as: “Every game they played is tainted.”
The coaches acknowledged the reality on the call that the NCAA enforcement timeline won’t impact Michigan this season, as the Wolverines are 8-0 and No. 3 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. And that’s one reason the Big Ten coaches called on action from the Big Ten.
Sources described Petitti as listening carefully to the coaches, but not tipping his hand in what direction he may go. Sources expressed curiosity as to whether the Big Ten is truly interested in taking action or just listening to coaches so they can be heard.
The Big Ten technically has authority under its Sportsmanship Policy to punish Michigan or members of the coaching staff.
That’s been considered unlikely in this case in the near future, as it’s unusual to have an NCAA case unfolding in real time. While plenty of evidence has emerged in media reports, the league would likely be unable to use those as a fact set to make a decision.
The league could also initiate its own investigation into potential violations of the Big Ten’s sportsmanship policy. While Petitti has authority to dictate discipline, if it’s beyond a standard level it must be looked at by an executive committee that could approve, deny or lessons that discipline.
League officials did not respond to request for comment late Wednesday.
“I don’t think the Big Ten understood how upset everyone was,” said another source. “The tenor of the call was asking the Big Ten to show leadership — the conference and the presidents. An unprecedented violation of the rules would require unprecedented action from the Big Ten.”