Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh looks on from the sidelines during the Wolverines' game against Indiana on Oct. 14, 2023. Credit: USA TODAY

On the field, everything is coming up roses for the Michigan Wolverines football team. They’re 8-0, ranked No. 2 in the nation, and boast a favorable schedule from here on out to control their own destiny, Ohio State notwithstanding.

Off the field, however, Jim Harbaugh’s program can’t stop stepping on rakes. Harbaugh, who started the season on a school-imposed three-game suspension over potential NCAA violations, is now staring down the barrel of a full-blown scandal around a concerted effort to get video surveillance of opponents’ play-calling.

While sign-stealing itself is not against NCAA rules, “Off-campus, in-person scouting of future opponents (in the same season) is prohibited,” and that’s what Michigan is accused of doing. According to the NCAA, the school used a “vast network” to steal opposing teams’ signs.

The Athletic reported Monday that Michigan staffer Connor Stalions bought tickets to watch at least five Big Ten schools play before their games against Harbaugh’s squad. Meanwhile, ESPN reported that Stalions purchased tickets in his own name for over 30 games at 11 different Big Ten schools. For his part, Harbaugh has denied any knowledge of these efforts.

The NCAA investigation is in its early days and there are still a lot of unknowns to sort through. But as the picture begins to get painted, some in the sports media think that Michigan has forfeited the right to compete for championships this season, regardless of who knew what and when.

Pac-12 insider Jon Wilner thinks that, given what is already known, the Big Ten should move to ban the school from any postseason games.

“The Big Ten should ban Michigan from the postseason. Elaborate, premeditated, resource-heavy, multi-year effort to gain a competitive advantage. Pretty simple, really,” Wilner tweeted.

The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel seems to be in agreement, saying that the conference should ban Michigan from playing in the championship game, which would be a major blow to their College Football Playoff chances.

“If there’s already this much reported evidence of a scheme to illegally gain an on-field advantage, the Big Ten should consider banning Michigan from its championship game,” Mandel tweeted.

While not specifically calling for it himself, college football insider Bruce Feldman said that he thinks it’s possible the NCAA could move fast in this instance, forcing the conference and CFP to consider the scandal and its fallout.

I do think it’s possible,” Feldman said during Monday’s episode of The Paul Finebaum Show, according to On3. “(Sources) definitely took note that the NCAA has been a lot more proactive on the front end, pushing back. Quite honestly, if you look at some of the comments the NCAA has made as it relates to Jim Harbaugh in the previous investigation, when it was that line ‘It’s not just a hamburger.’ It was very unlike the NCAA to kind of clap back at somebody in their crosshairs. I’ve had more than one person go ‘Maybe there was more to it.’

“Again, competitive balance and in this case, it’s a really messy situation. This is the elephant in the room. This is different than ‘There were rule violations during the COVID dead period.’ This goes right into the heart of the competitive balance of the games.”

USA Today’s Dan Wolken noted, however, that given the speed at which the NCAA usually moves on things like this, coupled with the fact that the College Football Playoff doesn’t answer to the NCAA, the punishment here is unlikely to meet that kind of harsh reality.

“…even if the NCAA hypothetically had a way to fast-track this case over the next month, would those vacated wins mean Michigan was ineligible for the College Football Playoff? Without the NCAA handing down a postseason ban, would the CFP — which is a separate entity from the NCAA — even acknowledge or care about vacated wins? And would Michigan, knowing it is guilty of a pretty blatant violation, have the fortitude to fall on its sword and remove itself from CFP consideration?” asked Wolken.

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.