On Thursday afternoon, it was reported that the NCAA notified Michigan football and the Big Ten conference of an open investigation involving alleged sign stealing by the Wolverines.
The part to understand is that stealing signs during the game is not actually illegal. That’s not what the NCAA is investigating.
From the report first issued by Ross Dellenger and Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports:
“The NCAA is investigating the Michigan football program for allegedly violating rules that prohibit teams from scouting, in person, future opponents, industry sources told Yahoo Sports.”
“The allegation pertains to NCAA Bylaw 11.6.1, which reads: “Off-campus, in-person scouting of future opponents (in the same season) is prohibited,” sources say.”
Did Michigan send staffers to scout future opponents in person to identify signals for specific play calls? That’s what the NCAA wants answer to.
The Big Ten and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh issued statements stating full transparency and cooperation during the investigation.
🚨 #B1G Conference Statement
— Big Ten Football (@B1Gfootball) October 19, 2023
Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh on latest NCAA investigation pic.twitter.com/zbs1AK6wps
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) October 19, 2023
What does this have to do with Rutgers?
After the news broke about the NCAA investigation, head coach Greg Schiano’s halftime interview during the Rutgers-Michigan game went viral on X.
This Greg Schiano halftime interview vs. Michigan seemed very odd at the time… 🧐 pic.twitter.com/TaSDkWyT78
— Jim Weber (@JimMWeber) October 19, 2023
At the time, his comments seemed a bit peculiar. It’s understandable that looking back on them, it’s fair to wonder if Schiano was in fact alluding to Michigan stealing signs. However, since the tweet of the interview was tweeted, Brian Fonseca reported that “Schiano’s comments were in relation to an officiating issue and not related to suspected sign stealing, a person with knowledge of the situation told NJ Advance Media.”
This makes sense because the context of the question was in regard to officiating. This was the same half that involved several questionable calls against Rutgers made by the officiating crew. That included a phantom holding call on Hollin Pierce on the second drive of the game with Rutgers leading Michigan 7-0 and near midfield after a 27 yard run by Kyle Monangai.
Here’s video of the total bullshit holding call in the #Rutgers/#Michigan game on Hollis Pierce. Would’ve set RU up 7-0 from the 50 driving. Instead forced a punt. Might be what Schiano was referring to when he said “some things weren’t right out there” in reference to penalties pic.twitter.com/TDchHrEiae
— Mike Broadbent (@MikeBbent) September 23, 2023
The idea that Schiano was referring to the referees in an ambiguous way makes sense in that he can be reprimanded and fined by the Big Ten for blatant complaints regarding officiating. This is what Schiano said after the game when asked about his halftime comments.
“Just the nuances of the game,” Schiano said. “I was frustrated with a few things. They’re a very good football team. You have to make sure you are on point with everything. Because if you’re not, it’s not just a gain, it’s a touchdown. If you’re not, it’s not just a (pass breakup), it’s a pick six. We had three shots inside the 30-yard line, and we get that against that team, it’s 14-7 at half. I think anybody who comes out here and plays the No. 2 team would sign up for that.”
Even if that is what Schiano was complaining about, that doesn’t mean that Michigan wasn’t potentially stealing signs.
Consider the game changing interception thrown by Gavin Wimsatt that resulted in a pick six returned by Mike Sainristil. It was his first interception of the season.
Many of us, including myself, criticized the play call made by offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca in that situation. Calling a wide receiver screen pass into the middle of the field seemed both predictable and an unnecessary risk. However, part of that assessment was made by the fact that Michigan had two different defenders jump the pass.
In uploading the play to YouTube, this Michigan site MGoClip credited Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter for having “two dudes converging on exactly this screen.”
You can watch the play below.
It’s possible the defenders just read the play in the moment or knew it was coming based on film review. Again, this play doesn’t serve as proof that Michigan did in fact steal signs and knew the screen was coming. However, it is a play that changed the game and one that Michigan wasn’t fooled in the slightest about defending.
There was no reason to question that Rutgers lost to Michigan in any other way but fair and square. Of course, Thursday’s report on an NCAA investigation into sign stealing makes it fair to now wonder…did Michigan steal signs from Rutgers and use it to their advantage against them in the game on September 23? I’m not denying that Michigan is the far more talented and the better team. That’s obvious. However, the NCAA is now looking into whether Rutgers was a victim of potential violations committed by Jim Harbaugh’s program. That’s hard to know at this time, but it’s now a real possibility.
If the guy in Michigan gear making the M sign with his fingers is a mole, that would be one of the funniest and sloppiest works of espionage of all-time. https://t.co/EGMQQZ5sl5
— Aaron Breitman (@aaron_breitman) October 19, 2023
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