ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — A former employee at a Big Ten football program said Monday it was his job to steal signs and he was given details from multiple conference schools before his team played Michigan to compile a spreadsheet of play-calling signals used by the Wolverines last year.
He spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, fearing the disclosures could impact his coaching career.
The employee said he shared with Michigan the documents, which showed the Wolverines’ signs and corresponding plays, after his school faced the Jim Harbaugh-led program in 2022.
The person also passed along screenshots of text-message exchanges with staffers from a handful of Big Ten football teams with Michigan, giving the program proof that other conference teams were colluding to steal signs from the Wolverines.
He said he gave the additional details to Michigan last week because he hoped it would help Harbaugh’s embattled program, adding he believes the head coach and his assistants are being unfairly blamed for the actions of a rogue staffer.
The alleged actions by Michigan’s opponents potentially violate the Big Ten’s sportsmanship policy, which is being used as the basis of the conference’s case against Michigan. The school and the Big Ten confirmed Monday that Michigan had received notification of potential disciplinary action from the conference.
No. 2 Michigan (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) is already the subject of an NCAA investigation into an alleged impermissible, in-person scouting and sign-stealing scheme. A former low-level staffer, Connor Stalions, allegedly attended and also sent people to opponents’ games to record video that was used to decode their in-game signals.
The scandal has loomed over Harbaugh’s team as it chases a third straight conference championship and the school’s first national title since 1997. Michigan plays at No. 9 Penn State on Saturday, and if the team was at all distracted by the tumult swirling around the program, it didn’t show on the field last Saturday. The Wolverines beat Purdue 41-13.
“I’m fine with being the villain if that’s how the media and everyone else sees it outside the building,” guard Zac Zinter told reporters Monday as the Wolverines went back to business as usual, but for a notable visitor to Schembechler Hall.
Wrestling star Ric Flair dropped in on Harbaugh. “Just Spent The Morning With My Close Friend,” Flair posted on X, along with an image of himself and Harbaugh in the coach’s office.
The NCAA doesn’t outlaw sign-stealing, but it has rules against in-person scouting and using electronic equipment to steal signs, and some of the allegations against Michigan suggest an organized and well-funded approach. Harbaugh has denied any knowledge of the scheme and the school says it is cooperating with the NCAA.
Last week, Stalions resigned two weeks after he was suspended by Michigan. Stalions’ attorney said his client did not want to be a distraction for the team.
The former Big Ten program employee told AP he had no knowledge that any of the material he received was gathered in violation of the rules. The documents he provided to Michigan were shared along with other material with the Big Ten on Friday, according to a person familiar with the situation speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to share the details.
The conference gave the school until early this week to respond to allegations and evidence it has been presented, another person with knowledge of the situation said. The person spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because the Big Ten was not making its dealings with Michigan public.
Commissioner Tony Petitti met by video call with angry and frustrated Big Ten coaches and athletic directors last week. The ADs discussed possible punishments for Michigan, focusing on a potential suspension of Harbaugh and other coaches.
Big Ten bylaws allow for the commissioner to hand down a two-game suspension and a fine of up to $10,000, though more severe penalties can be imposed with approval of the joint group executive committee, comprised of leaders from other Big Ten schools.
Michigan President Santa Ono and athletic director Warde Manuel met with Petitti last Friday. Ono also sent an email to Petitti, asking the conference to wait for results of the NCAA investigation before potentially taking action.
“We are aware that other representatives of the Big 10 are demanding that you take action now, before any meaningful investigation and full consideration of all the evidence,” Ono wrote. “And we both know it is not what any other member would want if allegations were raised against their people or programs.”
With the investigation hanging over Harbaugh and his team, Manuel said he would not be traveling to North Texas to participate in the College Football Playoff selection committee meeting this week.
Through his attorney, Stalions said that to his knowledge none of the Michigan coaches told anyone to break rules or were aware of improper conduct when it came to advance scouting. Harbaugh served a three-game, university-imposed suspension earlier this season for an unrelated and still unresolved NCAA violations case tied to recruiting.
Earlier Monday, Central Michigan athletic director Amy Folan said the school was still reviewing whether Stalions was on the sideline during the Chippewas’ season-opener at Michigan State. Central Michigan is now cooperating with the NCAA, she said.
Images of a person in Central Michigan gear, wearing a hat and sunglasses during the night game, circulated on social media last week and prompted the school to look into it.
AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed. Follow Larry Lage at https://twitter.com/larrylage
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