Since the Big Ten and NCAA began investigating Michigan’s culpability in former recruiting analyst Connor Stalions’ elaborate sign-stealing operation, the response from Michigan hasn’t been to deny the accusations. It’s been to deflect by claiming they weren’t aware and distract everyone with accusations that opponents with fewer recruiting advantages legally deciphered their signs.
The latest defense from Michigan has involved their coach Jim Harbaugh planting a flag in the ground and anointing Michigan as America’s team.
“Just the perseverance and the stalwartness of these guys, watching (Michigan vs. Penn State) I would have to say to everybody… it’s gotta be America’s team,” Harbaugh said. “America loves a team that beats the odds, beats the adversity, overcomes what the naysayers and critics, [the] so-called experts think. That’s my favorite kind of team.”
In a way, he might be right. A silver spoon program with the resources to hire recruiting analysts, fly in the top recruits from around the country, get caught cheating, and then blame their accusers is as American as apple pie these days. Pretending to be the victim and seeking sympathy for how the powers-that-be are unfairly targeting them, sounds familiar in this climate. If Harbaugh wants to stop these investigations in his tracks, he should announce he’s running for Senate in Michigan this week. That way he can accuse anyone who dares punish him for creating the environment for a banana republic. At this pace, I’d be more worried that if Michigan doesn’t reach the College Football Playoff, Harbaugh’s Wolverines will stage a rally at midfield of the Sugar or Rose Bowl and refuse to leave the field.
Michigan portraying themselves as the hard-scrabbled disruptors being punished for coloring way outside the lines, then blaming the college football equivalent of the deep state for screwing them over is beyond overdramatic. Remember when Michigan’s offense lined up in an I formation and raised four fingers to the sky during the second drive of the preseason opener as a tribute to Harbaugh, who is very much still alive? And that was for a recruiting violation we know he personally committed. They even tried launching a variation of the nothing-burger excuse to absolve themselves during Harbaugh’s earlier punishment.
As for adversity. Michigan is one of the most profitable athletic departments in the country. Their athletic department revenue in 2022 totaled $210 million, the fourth-highest in the entire country. Their first national title was a century ago. Michigan fans are the only ones who wanted Harbaugh gone after he got too familiar with the Outback Bowl during his first six years at the helm.
Last week, Michigan’s lawyers also sent a stern letter to Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti implying that they couldn’t be punished because their opponents were also sharing signs, but nothing they pointed to from the other schools they singled out included an accusation of similar rule-breaking. The idea that the NCAA and the Big Ten’s two-tiered justice system are singling them out to appease Rutgers, Purdue, and Ohio State is absurd. Harbaugh isn’t being punished for sign-stealing. They’re being probed for the system implemented by Stalions and the lack of institutional control present within the program.
The best case scenario is that everyone at Michigan blindly believed that their recruiting analyst and his network of scouts were on the road at opponents’ home games for years and roaming the sidelines, relaying his information to assistant coaches on game days like a Frank Broyles Assistant Coach of the Year candidate. The jury is still out on whether he slipped onto Central Michigan’s sideline decked out in Chippewa gear and blacked-out shades. There are still questions abound about how an underling making $55,000 a year was funding this without filing expense reports.
Michigan seemed more apoplectic about the fact that the Big Ten’s ADs were complaining about their efforts than they were about Stalions’ illicit operation. The slap on the wrist by the Big Ten isn’t even all that severe. Harbaugh still dispenses sage coaching wisdom on weekdays and his top-flight coaching staff will take the reins for two more Saturdays. The first week was a walkthrough because Penn State turns into soup versus top-10 teams. Then, come Maryland and Ohio State. The irony is that the same Michigan people defending Harbaughto the death were ready to dump him prior to 2021. But success breeds loyalty. The Dear Leader vibes emanating from Michigan right now is downright bizarre. Maybe Harbaugh isn’t that far off about this being America’s Team.
Follow DJ Dunson on X: @cerebralsportex