The NCAA has reportedly made its way to Ann Arbor.
ESPN and The Associated Press reported Thursday that NCAA enforcement staff this week has been to the University of Michigan as part of its investigation into the sign-stealing scandal that led to the suspension of UM analyst Connor Stalions.
After Yahoo Sports broke the story of the investigation, the Big Ten confirmed that the NCAA “was investigating allegations of sign stealing by the University of Michigan football program.” Stalions was identified as a central figure in the investigation, with a Big Ten coach telling Yahoo Sports’ Ross Dellenger that Stalions “spearheads” the operation, which allegedly included in-person scouting.
According to ESPN, Stalions purchased tickets to games at 11 Big Ten schools while Yahoo Sports reported that Stalions bought tickets to games featuring teams Michigan could face in the College Football Playoff, including Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and Oregon, as well as the 2021 and 2022 SEC title games. Specifically, Stalions bought a ticket to Tennessee’s Oct. 29, 2022 home game vs. Kentucky and quickly transferred it to another person who used the ticket, which was situated opposite of the Vols’ sideline in range of viewing the team’s signals.
According to ESPN, Stalions left a paper trail of purchasing tickets to “at least 35 games at 17 stadiums across the country.” Before the NCAA’s sign-stealing investigation into Michigan surfaced last week, Stalions had reportedly purchased tickets for Saturday’s Penn State at Ohio State game. Stalions had seats “on both sides of the stadium across from each bench,” per ESPN, but those tickets went unused.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that the NCAA investigation was prompted by “an outside investigative firm approaching the NCAA with documents and videos obtained from computer drives maintained and accessed by multiple Michigan coaches.” Who hired the firm is not immediately known.
Additionally, The Detroit News reported that NCAA investigators now have access to cell phones and tablets used by Michigan coaches in an effort to search for past communication with Stalions.
Stalions, a graduate of the Naval Academy, was a volunteer at Michigan from 2015 to 2022 before being hired as a full-time analyst in May 2022. Stalions has been well-known throughout the Big Ten, according to Yahoo Sports’ Ross Dellenger. A source from a Big Ten school described Michigan’s sign-stealing operation to Dellenger as an “elaborate scheme” that used both video footage and in-person recordings.
“We were told to be careful because they had a guy who could pick plays,” a Big Ten head coach told Dellenger. “It was too late in the week to change our signals, but another staff did tell us about [Stalions].”
Stealing an opponent’s signals during a game is common in college football and not against NCAA rules. But the NCAA’s investigation is centered on in-person scouting of future opponents, which has been prohibited since 1994. Using recording or video devices would violate another NCAA bylaw.
Michigan, now 8-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country, is trying to win the Big Ten and advance to the College Football Playoff for the third consecutive season. Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh released a statement last week saying he had no knowledge of the alleged scheme.
“I do not have any knowledge or information regarding the University of Michigan football program illegally stealing signs, nor have I directed any staff member or others to participate in an off-campus scouting assignment,” Harbaugh’s statement said. “I have no awareness of anyone on our staff having done that or having directed that action. No matter what program or organization I have led throughout my career, my instructions and awareness of how we scout opponents have always been firmly within the rules.”
Michigan was already facing a separate NCAA investigation regarding a series of violations that included Harbaugh meeting with recruits during the COVID dead period, among other Level II violations.