ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Before leaving Michigan’s postgame news conference, Jim Harbaugh took a moment to enjoy Saturday’s victory over Purdue and the performance of quarterback JJ McCarthy.
“Man, it’s something special to behold,” Harbaugh said, beating his heart with his fist. Then he gathered his things and went out to greet his family and followed the sports director and Manuel into a narrow corridor.
When Harbaugh left the field Saturday night, it was unclear how many more opportunities he would have to coach this particular Michigan team.
Big Ten Commissioner Tony Pettitte was in Ann Arbor on Friday to meet with school officials about the scouting and sign-stealing scandal that has angered rival schools and put Michigan at the center of a firestorm. The Big Ten initially deferred to an NCAA investigation into potential rules violations involving Michigan employee Connor Stallions, who resigned Friday. But since the NCAA investigation is unlikely to conclude before the season ends, pressure has mounted on Pettitte to use his authority as commissioner to impose in-season sanctions against the Wolverines.
Harbaugh denied any knowledge of the alleged scouting scheme, but that does not necessarily protect him from punishment. The NCAA can punish a head coach for a rule-breaking that occurs in his program, whether he knows it or not, and it’s fair to wonder whether that philosophy would extend to other governing bodies. Big Ten coaches and athletic directors expressed frustration with Michigan’s alleged behavior in calls with Pettitte last week and urged him to take action against the Wolverines, with a number of officials believing Harbaugh’s suspension is the most appropriate potential punishment.
“Everyone is upset,” one coach said. The athlete. “Why isn’t anything being done?”
Multiple sources within the conference said if Pettitte moves against Michigan, the potential penalty is a suspension for the head coach. The NCAA has moved away from sanctions that punish players who didn’t engage in rule-breaking, and it’s hard to imagine the Big Ten would impose a postseason ban for the same reason. It is not clear how long Harbaugh’s potential suspension will be. School officials in Ann Arbor and elsewhere in the conference expect clarity in the coming days.
Petitti, in his first year as commissioner and facing his biggest challenge yet, will have to make a decision that will not be easy and will not win universal acclaim.
Several athletic directors in the conference said The athlete They sympathize with the situation that Petitti is in, because it is essentially a no-win situation. He is being asked to either sanction a top national championship contender before the NCAA investigation concludes or risk alienating 13 other Big Ten schools by doing nothing despite mounting evidence.
Pettitte has the ability to act under the Big Ten’s sportsmanship policy, but the conference does not have its own investigative arm. Athletic directors and coaches feel that schools have provided sufficient information to enable Pitete to act; The schools sent the conference evidence of tickets purchased by the Stallions and surveillance video showing people sitting in those seats and filming the sidelines to record their signals.
Are the Big Ten sure the advanced scouting scheme is happening? Can the conference confirm that anyone other than the Stallions is involved?
If the league can answer yes to the first question right now, Pettitte may choose to act — because that would, in theory, be clear evidence of an NCAA violation. The second question will likely take much longer to answer, and Michigan will need a chance to respond to any findings that may be made.
The Big Ten is working with the NCAA to obtain information, but Pettitte is under pressure to act before that investigation concludes, a league source said. Any action he takes would set a precedent for the conference office and likely draw the ire of Michigan’s athletic department.
Michigan President Santa Ono explained the school’s position in an email to Petitti before Friday’s meeting with the commissioner. Ono urged Petitti to acquiesce to the NCAA investigation and asserted Michigan’s right to respond before the conference imposed any discipline.
“The best course of action, and the most likely course to ascertain the facts, is to await the results of the NCAA investigation,” Ono wrote in the obtained email. The athlete. “But if you refuse to allow the NCAA’s investigative process to proceed, the Big Ten may take no action against the university, its players or coaches without launching its own investigation and providing us with an opportunity to present our position.”
Harbaugh said Saturday night that he was unable to comment on the investigation but was “deeply appreciative” of Ono’s support. Manuel declined to comment when contacted by reporters at Michigan’s postgame press conference.
“You can keep asking me all the questions you want,” Manuel said. “I have no comment.”
The Wolverines are third in the College Football Playoff rankings and improved to 9-0 with Saturday’s 41-13 win over Purdue. The two biggest games on their schedule fall in the next three weeks, starting Saturday at Penn State and ending against Ohio State on Nov. 25 in Ann Arbor.
Three more wins would put Michigan in position to win the Big Ten Championship and return to the CFP for the third straight year. Those accomplishments have been called into question amid evidence that Michigan obtained the other team’s signals by violating rules prohibiting personal scouting. Harbaugh said that his team would be affected by such criticism.
“Guys are so tough,” Harbaugh said. “The comments keep coming in about why they’re good, how they’re good. They’re just good.”
(Top image: Gregory Shamos/Getty Images)
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