December 8, 2023

The thing about what the Houston Astros did, which cost their manager and GM their jobs, was they took something everyone in baseball does — stealing signs — and used video to elevate it to a place that was unacceptable.

In football, at every level, everyone steals signs. If I can steal yours, it’s on you to change them. Watch the line of scrimmage when a quarterback is going through his cadence and every linebacker seems to react and signal to his team what’s coming based on a check they hear. It’s because stealing signals — at a basic level — is an understood part of the game.

What did Michigan do? You know the allegations surrounding a football assistant who resigned. Who can prove what is really the question and who knew? Plausible deniability is always the key here. Are there enough layers between the head coach and whoever broke rules — allegedly — to protect the head coach, or the school from punishment?

As for the punishment — who is going to do it? The NCAA? Sure. They just got around to not doing anything to anybody attached to the FBI probe into college basketball from 2017! Remember that one? The “we have your playbook” press conference about recruiting at some of the biggest programs in the sport that led to nothing happening? At least not to the head coaches … tell that to the assistants who spent time in jail. Because they did.

So, does that leave a brand new Big Ten commissioner in Tony Petitti to drop the hammer on one of the biggest brand names in the sport, and the all-time winningest program in the game? That seems unlikely. This feels like a spot where everyone tries to kick the can down the road long enough to buy time to allow things to pass. Although with this many eyes waiting for some conclusion, that’s going to be tough to do.

I agree with Michigan’s request of the conference not to rush to judge — I disagree with trying to paint Connor Stalions as some low-level nobody. We have all seen the video of him standing among your coaches on the sideline, and the urgency with which they respond to his information. What he did mattered.

The thing that’s so precious about the Michigan fan base is how everyone is out to get you. If Ohio State did this, would you be calling for a measured response? Would you make the same excuses for them that you make for yourself? Of course you wouldn’t.

And maybe they did do it. Michigan has submitted evidence to the Big Ten that Ohio State, Rutgers and Purdue shared Michigan’s signs prior to the 2022 Big Ten title game. My response to that is this: Whatever punishment Michigan faces for what they did, those schools should face it as well. Because it’s not only cheating based on who does it.

It’s just that the Michigan story has so many layers. Vacuum repair, LLCs, plane tickets, video espionage, sideline disguises and manifestos. All of which is like nitrous oxide to the college football message boards, where passion and rage exist side by side.

Michigan has a view of themselves that is justified for many reasons — it’s a great school, and a proud football tradition. But being a Michigan man doesn’t mean you’re above being called out if you broke rules. I don’t see this as being as big a deal as some. But this situation has clearly become one — and the only certainty is there is no path to a solution that satisfies everyone involved.

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