April 14, 2024

Suspended Michigan football staffer Connor Stalions compensated at least one person for recording future Wolverine opponents with “a couple hundred dollars” and a ticket to a Michigan home game, according to the person.

The man, a former Division 3 football player and coach, spoke to ESPN on the condition that his name not be published because he was concerned about his privacy. He is the first person who was involved in the alleged cheating scheme to publicly share details about their role.

He said he attended three Big Ten games during the past two years to record the sidelines of a future Michigan opponent. He said he uploaded the videos he took on his personal cell phone to a shared iPhone photo album, but does not know who else other than Stalions had access to the album.

He said he was wary of Stalions’ plan “to a degree” when he was first approached to tape the games, but felt that if someone from Michigan’s staff was asking him to do this that it must fall safely in the gray area of college football’s sign-stealing rules.

“I didn’t like it, but it’s a gray line,” he said. “You can call me naive, but no one is reading the bylaws. I’m not a contractual lawyer. …I just felt like if you’re not doing it, you’re not trying to get ahead.”

It is against NCAA rules for staff members of a football program to scout games of future opponents in person. The NCAA football rulebook also prohibits “an opposing player, coach or other team personnel” from recording an opponent’s signals through audio or video. The NCAA is investigating claims that Michigan used a large network of individuals to tape games of future opponents. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh denied any knowledge of the alleged scheme in a statement last week. A Michigan spokesman added on Friday that “due to the ongoing investigation, no one from Michigan will be able to comment beyond what was shared last week.”

According to a LinkedIn page he has recently deleted, Stalions is a former officer in the Marine Corps who was hired as a member of the program’s recruiting staff in 2022 and worked with the team as a volunteer for several years before then. Photos from recent Michigan games show he frequently stood next to the team’s play callers on the sideline during games. Michigan suspended Stalions with pay last Friday, and sources told ESPN that the NCAA is seeking his computer as part of their investigation.

Stalions did not return multiple phone calls seeking a comment for this story.

The source who spoke to ESPN Friday said he attended games at Rutgers and Penn State last season and another game at Penn State last month. He said that before the news of the investigation was made public Stalions also provided him a ticket to this coming Saturday’s game between Indiana and Penn State. He does not plan to attend.

He said at the games he attended he filmed every drive from his seat in the stands about 15-20 rows above field level. He said he tried to film wide enough to include the sideline and the majority of the team’s on-field formation so members of the Michigan staff would be able to sync his videos with other film and decode the team’s signals. He said he was able to capture enough of the coaches on the sideline that their signals were visible for someone who zoomed in on the recorded video.

“A lot of people may say you can just rip that from the All-22 [wide-shot game film]. Well, it’s not that easy,” he said. “This makes it easier to mirror things up and get those tendencies.”

He said for the three games he taped he received roughly $1,000 to cover his travel expenses and pay for his time. He said Stalions paid him from a personal Venmo account.

The source who spoke to ESPN Friday said he attended games at Rutgers and Penn State last season and another game at Penn State last month, which he left at halftime.

“I only did a half because it was pouring rain and they were playing UMass. It didn’t pay well enough so I was like, ‘yeah, I’m not staying here.'”

He said that before the news of the investigation was made public Stalions also provided him a ticket to this coming Saturday’s game between Indiana and Penn State. He does not plan to attend.

He said at the games he attended he filmed every drive from his seat in the stands about 15-20 rows above field level. He said he tried to film wide enough to include the sideline and the majority of the team’s on-field formation so members of the Michigan staff would be able to sync his videos with other film and decode the team’s signals. He said he was able to capture enough of the coaches on the sideline that their signals were visible for someone who zoomed in on the recorded video.

Stalions purchased tickets to at least 35 total games featuring 12 other Big Ten teams and several other potential College Football Playoff teams during the last three years, sources told ESPN earlier this week. The Washington Post reported earlier this week that investigators hired by an unknown source to look into Michigan’s operation found evidence that the scouting trips were expected to cost more than $15,000 this year. Stalions, according to the university’s website, received an annual salary of $55,000.

The source said he has not yet been contacted by any investigators from the NCAA or elsewhere.

ESPN contacted several other individuals this week whose names were connected to ticket purchases made by Stalions. One woman based in Jacksonville said she was friends with Stalions from their time together in the military but hung up abruptly when asked about attending last year’s Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville. One other former Michigan staff member, Andrew Barlage, was among the names connected to tickets purchased by Stalions. According to Barlage’s LinkedIn page he was the head recruiting intern at Michigan in 2021 and worked as a graduate assistant for Akron’s football program in 2022. He did not respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment.

The source who did speak with ESPN said he was not aware of how many people helped tape the games. He said he assumed someone else was helping to fund the trips, but that he only ever spoke to Stalions.

“I wasn’t doing it for personal gain or hoping to get my foot in the door if Conor becomes a head coach someday,” he said. “It was just I got to go to some Big Ten games, alright sweet. And everyone else I felt was doing it to some degree. It’s a billion-dollar industry. You’re going to work in the gray areas as best you can.”

ESPN’s Pete Thamel contributed to this story.

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