Now that I got that cringe worthy title out of the way, it is time to talk turkey.
Unless you live under a literal rock like Patrick Star, you have caught wind of the ever evolving Michigan Football sign stealing scandal in the past week.
Many of you, much like me, potentially began your journey through the ins and outs of this scandal with a simple set of questions. What exactly did Michigan do? Was it against the rules? Where is the grey area? What does it mean?
I am here to, at least attempt to, clear some things up and give my own personal thoughts on this matter, so as the late great Heath Ledger once said, “And, Here. We. Go.”
First things first, I realize that many of you are probably reading this thinking, “Collin you are an Ohio State fan you are certainly biased when it comes to this matter.” And to that I would tell you, yes, when I initially caught wind of this story I attacked it from the angle of a disgruntled Ohio State fan. I was frustrated with how my alma mater has played the last two years in The GaXe (get it cause you can’t write the letter M HAHA) and nearly jumped at the idea of having a scape goat for what otherwise appeared to be a much maligned set of defeats. Then, I realized that I must be an adult about this and, unlike many who have access to a smart phone and social media, educated myself a bit on the happenings of the potential scandal and what it could potentially mean prior to speaking on it, so let’s dig into it.
For those who are hearing about this scandal for the first time, in its simplest terms the case boils down to this: a Michigan low level recruiting staffer was able to decode signs from other teams and then translate them to the coaching staff in an attempt to gain an edge on opponents while making in game adjustments. That process, at its core, is not illegal. Sign stealing is a part of college football and it will continue to be until the governing bodies that run the sport take a page out of the NFL’s book and implement microphones into helmets to allow coaches to communicate to players. However, that is only the beginning of this story.
As more and more information began to leak about the scandal, a few things became apparent. The recruiting staffer in question, Connor Stallions, was able to decode these signs so effectively because he was sending people under cover to film other teams sidelines throughout the season. He would then take the footage of these games and use it to validate which signs were legitimate, identify which plays those correlated to, and created a proverbial Madden screen cheating type experience to where he could alert coaches, with a level of certainty, which plays were coming. This is where the whole operation becomes illegal. You cannot, under NCAA bylaws, advance scout in season. You most certainly cannot send “advanced scouts” to film other opponents, and, the last piece that is new to the table, you cannot send the information you gather to other teams in order to essentially clear a path for you to playoff contention.
This is where the question arises, “how does this help Michigan win?” Well, that piece is a little more complicated. When it comes to traditional sign stealing whether it be in game or things that one can attempt to pick up on film, there is a certain amount of risk reward mitigation that a coach must go through when trusting, what is not a validated source, in his decision making process. However, if you can shrink the margin for error on that risk reward ratio, then you can ensure that your players are damn near always in the right spot and just need to finish a play. It would not necessarily be like having the answers to the test, but instead like having a study guide that you really trust next to you the entire time you take it.
Now that we are all caught up on what was done, why it was illegal, and how it helped the Wolverines, I would like to share my thoughts.
They broke the rules. No matter how you slice this, Michigan cheated. Similar to a test in school, you never cheat when you think you know the answers, you only do it when you think you cannot succeed without it. That is reason enough to believe this impacted games, as if they did not need to do it why risk it.
This certainly had an affect on the games. This was not merely stealing signs across sidelines. This was a well orchestrated plan that had layers to it in order to ensure an advantage was had to the point where it was clearly integrated into game plans. If you disagree with that statement go look at some of the images that have been captured of Stallions on the sidelines. First off, the fact that he is on the sideline instead of behind the end zone chatting up recruits like the majority of those in his position across the country is proof enough he was up to no good, and on top of that you can see laminated cards of other teams signals in his hand in these pictures. A low level staffer would not have the ear of the OC and DC if they did not know what information he had. That would be like an VP dealing with an analyst directly.
Harbaugh had to know about this. I do not think he set it in motion and had Stallions be his scape goat, I think something along the lines of they need to be better and find an edge coming out of 2020 was exclaimed and then Stallions saw it as an opportunity to gain the trust of the staff and rise up the ranks. I would imagine he said he had the ability to de-code these signs early in the process and once it was seen to be abnormally accurate, he gained the attention of those higher up the food chain, they implemented into the game plan and by the time they found out how he was able to be so sharp the toothpaste was out of the tube and they ran with it.
If all of the rumors that have come out from trusted sources turn out to be true I think Michigan should have to more or less clean house and vacate wins. We are not talking about paying players under the table or selling merchandise for tattoos or any of that. This is the first scandal in a long time that once on the field team vs team, man vs man an unfair advantage was had. Sure, you could say that Reggie Bush being paid to be at USC made it unfair because it got him on their team and made them better, but my counter to that would be at least every coach and player that the Trojans went up against those three years knew for a fact that 5 was gonna be totting the rock come kickoff on Saturday. In this case Michigan knew what was coming while the opponent did not which is not something you can prepare for no matter how hard you try.
When I hear people, specifically Michigan fans, say that other programs, Ohio State specifically, should have just changed their signs, it shows they have no idea how signs work. That would be the equivalent of telling someone who only spoke English on a Sunday to speak Spanish fluently by Saturday. The rumors of TCU changing signs, if true, can be explained by having over a month to prepare for the game and implement those kind of changes.
I feel bad for the players and coaches of the last two seasons whose careers this potentially affected, specifically CJ Stroud. After the Oregon game, CJ played 2 Heisman worthy regular seasons at Ohio State entering the Michigan Game as the favorite to win the award in back to back years. Both years huge second halves by the Team Up North took away his chance to win the award and in 2021 to make the playoff. He is someone that, until that Georgia game, was dragged in Columbus and, to many, was seen as someone who was great but could not win the big game. If CJ had been 2-0 against Michigan or even 1-1 (I think you have a better argument that they would have won regardless in 2021 if you are a Michigan fan), with a Heisman and let’s say the same game against Georgia but now that is in the National Title, even if they lose he immediately is considered the greatest Ohio State Quarterback of all time. Instead, he was seen as someone who could not win the one that mattered most, which hopefully is a narrative that will change now, but you can never give that kid those games back.
My final point on the matter is specific to Ohio State fans. Please do not allow Michigan fans online to drag you into arguments about how much this helped them win or how it should not be illegal or whatever. The bottom line is this, there are rules, when you break rules there are consequences, so in-turn, if you do not think you need to break a rule to give you an advantage and you can win on merit alone, you typically do not see people breaking said rules. That is the only information you need. Or put into Gen Z terms, If you didn’t need to you wouldn’t. As it pertains to Dave Portnoy, one of the Michigan fans spearheading the pushback towards Ohio State fans, this is part of his schtick. Him saying that tattoo gate shows institutional unrest while this is simply gamesmanship is just his way to get under peoples skin. Just take a step back and laugh at it, it is still just a game played by college kids.
There you have it, everything you need to know about what is going on Up North. At the end of the day the NCAA will find a way to move slowly through this and no impact will be seen for at least a year maybe longer. Guys like Stroud will never get those games back and Harbaugh will probably be off to the NFL and things will return to normal. But I know one thing is for sure. If Ohio State and Michigan enter that game on November 25th in Ann Arbor number 1 and 2 in the playoff rankings, both undefeated, with a trip to Indianapolis on the line, that game will unseat 2006 as the game of the century and the biggest game in the history of The Game. So get your popcorn ready, because this could be just the beginning.