OT: Is Michigan football cheating?

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh on the sideline during their bowl game in December 2022 against TCU. Photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports

BRENDAN O’ROURKE | SPORTS REPORTER | beorourke@butler.edu 

Overtime, or “OT”, is an opinion column series where the Collegian takes national sports headlines or polarizing topics and gives them a Butler-centric angle. 

Recent allegations have come out against the Michigan Wolverines football team that accuse them of from their opponents to gain a competitive advantage. These allegations have left the entire college football world wondering if Michigan’s recent success was influenced by this cheating. 

According to ESPN, the sign-stealing started at the beginning of the 2021 season. Since the start of the 2021 season, the Wolverines have a 33-3 overall record and a 22-1 record in Big 10 play. In the previous six seasons under head coach Jim Harbaugh, their record was 49-22 with a 34-16 record in the Big 10. This seems like a drastic turnaround in the past three seasons, but the timing also seems interesting to college football fans given that many Michigan fans were calling for Harbaugh to get fired after the 2020 season. 

Michigan analyst Connor Stalions has reportedly orchestrated the process of stealing the signs. Stalions reportedly bought tickets to 12 of the 13 Big 10 teams’ games over the past three seasons. Over an hour of video footage has been sent to the NCAA of a person sitting in the stands videoing the sideline with a smartphone. Stalions also reportedly bought tickets to see potential College Football Playoff opponents of Michigan, including the 2021 and 2022 SEC championship games. 

After a picture surfaced from a Sep. 1 game between Central Michigan and Michigan State of someone who looked like Connor Stalions on the sidelines wearing CMU gear, the CMU athletic director announced that they would launch an investigation into his presence at the game. Michigan and Michigan State faced off on Oct. 21, and the Wolverines won convincingly 49-0. 

These reports have left many college football fans outraged by Michigan’s antics. First-year marketing major Graham Landt believes this whole situation is very disappointing for the Wolverines. 

“It’s tough seeing these reports because Michigan has been the best team in the Big 10 the past few years,” Landt said. “We shouldn’t have to wonder if that success came from cheating.” 

Seeing these reports come out against Michigan has left fans from other Big 10 teams wondering how much of a competitive advantage this gives to Michigan. 

Sophomore neuroscience and economics double major Grant Gilsenan is an Ohio State University (OSU) fan who believes that Michigan’s sign-stealing has given them a competitive advantage the last two years they have matched up with Ohio State. 

“I think absolutely [it gives them an advantage],” Gilsenan said. “Although their team is very good talent-wise and coaching-wise, it definitely gives them the edge when matched up with teams such as Ohio State who are of the same caliber.” 

OSU reportedly knew that the sign-stealing occurred for the past two years before their matchups with Michigan, but the Buckeyes lost both of those games. According to Yahoo Sports, OSU was also one of several teams that informed Texas Christian University (TCU) about Michigan’s sign-stealing scheme before last year’s College Football Playoff semifinal which may have resulted in TCU pulling off an upset against Michigan. 

Michigan is now under investigation from the Big 10 Conference and the NCAA. The investigation will be ongoing, and while the Wolverines’ potential punishment will not be handed out for a while, some fans are calling for Harbaugh to be suspended. Others want the NCAA to enforce a postseason ban on the program. The scandal also raises the question of how many other teams are participating in a similar sign-stealing process. 

Michigan fans such as first-year entrepreneurship and innovation major Jack Houldsworth are calling for the NCAA to look into other teams across the country. 

“I hope that [the NCAA] looks into every team, not just Michigan,” Houldsworth said. “They can’t just look into one team and penalize one team, when I feel that others do it.” 

Even if Michigan fans think that other teams are stealing signs across the country, they are currently the only team being investigated for it. This investigation also raises the question of whether or not there is an easy solution to this problem. Many fans and people around college football believe that the quick fix to this problem would be to put microphones in the players’ helmets for play calls just as the NFL does. 

Nick Saban, the head coach at the University of Alabama, is one of those who believes in putting microphones in the players’ helmets. 

On The Pat McAfee Show, Saban said, “We would solve a lot of problems in college football if we [had a microphone in the helmet]. There is no reason not to do that.” 

Putting microphones in helmets is a change that is being pushed for across the country, so it may be coming in the near future, but for now we are stuck with the current way of play calling — holding up play cards for play calls. 

While many fans may call Michigan’s success over the past three years a fluke because of their sign-stealing, I believe that is unfair to all of the players who have played for the Wolverines because, at the end of the day, players are the ones who go out and play hard to win games. The coaching staff may have illegally gained an advantage, but the players shouldn’t be punished for that, and it shouldn’t take away from the special success that they have had over these last three years. 

Regardless of what you think about the investigation, you can’t deny that the Wolverines will have all eyes on them the rest of the season as they are currently undefeated with an 8-0 record and will try to make their third straight College Football Playoff. 


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