The following is for entertainment purposes only and in no way should be considered legal advice or opinions. The opinions in this article are strictly my own and do not represent the opinions of Spinnable Sports or any agents thereof.
It is time to take a look at the Michigan situation and the associated issues. While this seems like a single issue, this is an iceberg growing huge beneath the surface. This story runs from rule-interpretation to criminal liability to manifestos and thats just the prelude.
It is curious how the NCAA seems to select schools of a certain type when going after them for NCAA violations, especially in the last 20 years. Make no mistake about it, players were paid by men with suitcases for years prior to the NIL down south, but heaven forbid there be a tattoo or a hamburger in the Big Ten…..and now Jim Harbaugh has thumbed his nose at the NCAA and he is paying the price for not kissing their rings. More power to Coach Harbaugh; the NCAA needs to remember its place and stop acting like a deranged tyrant leading a third world country and more like the small figure head of the what-used-to-be-amateur athletics.
There are many parallels between what is happening with politics in the United States as to what we are seeing in the NCAA Football arena in the NIL era…right, wrong, or indifferent, we see political parties weaponizing federal agencies and various aspects of investigatory agencies to attack, dissuade, or otherwise prohibit people from making advances in political arenas. The Department of Justice attacking a political opponent is unheard of in First World countries; but that is what we have now in the USA. This seems to spill over into the NCAA as of late – where teams and/or interested parties are using weaponized entities off the field to try to further the results on it.
In terms of the NCAA, while trivial most of the time in the past, what is happening with the University of Michigan is morally repugnant. The gag order upon the school (including players and coaches) while at the same time intentionally leaking information to the media is something akin to a 7th grade rumor mill designed to inflict maximum damage in the Court of Public Opinion. It is a joke, and reporters such as Pete Thamel should be ashamed of themselves and go sit in timeout for a few years. The Court of Public Opinion has been soiled by the constant leak of information to the media all while Michigan has been prohibited from speaking. The level of lawsuits that Michigan could pursue as a result of this are staggering; one would only hope a school like Michigan would take on the NCAA for their tyrannical abuse of their own process.
A few things about the Michigan situation, it is awfully suspicious how things occurred – in fairness, it is rivaled only by how suspicious Stalions from Michigan has been in his conduct. More on this later; but suffice to say the story here is far deeper than the public knows – and the public knows only what the powers that be want it to know; and it is abundantly obvious that the powers that be want Michigan to be out of the picture. What is hiding in the shadows as to how these accusations came to light is/are FAR more insidious and corrupt than anything Michigan has done, even assuming the very worst is true regarding the sign-stealing.
The NCAA may have an agenda against Michigan, but the rules are what they are – so what are they? There is no rule against sign-sealing. There is a rule that forbids recording an opponent’s signals which applies to a team when it’s on the field for a game. To repeat, there is no rule that categorically prohibits sign stealing. Is it icky? Yes. Does everyone do it? Yes. Rule 1-11-h of the NCAA Football 2023 Rule Books states “any attempt to record, either thought Any attempt to record, either through audio or video means, any signals given by an opposing player, coach or other team personnel is prohibited.”
That seems cut and dried, but it cannot be read alone. As a preliminary matter, it’s worth noting that Rule 1-11-h is part of Rule 1 – “The Game, Field, Players, and Equipment”. Rule 1-6-b, the Rules Book—the entire thing—applies to the following:
Everyone in the team area, players, substitutes, replaced players, coaches, athletics trainers, cheerleaders, band members, mascots [!], public-address announcers, audio/video/lighting system operators, and other persons affiliated with the teams or institutions.
The “Teams” according to Rule 1-1-1-a states: “(t)he game shall be played between two teams of not more than 11 players each…”
Thus, by statutory construction, we’re talking about the two teams that are playing a given game, not all teams everywhere. Context and construction matter and it if applied correctly, Michigan will not be in the crosshairs as so many assume from the insane rhetoric.
Remember Bill Clinton – “depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is”… And here, for the rules to apply to a person, that person must be affiliated with the teams playing the game and in the “team area.”
What is the “team area”? Rule 1-2-4-a defines it as being “(o)n each side of the field” and by definition therein, it means on the side of a field for games. In other words, people who are watching games from the stands are not that part of, nor subject to, that rule.
Bylaw 11.6.1 says this:
Off-campus, in-person scouting of future opponents (in the same season) is prohibited, except as provided in Bylaws 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52 [these two exceptions aren’t relevant].
Article 11 of the Bylaws, of which 11.6.1 is a part, is titled Conduct and Employment of Athletics Personnel. In that same vein, in Bylaw 11.1.1, is states “Institutional staff members found in violation of NCAA regulations shall be subject to disciplinary or corrective action…”
This begs the question, does 11.6.1 apply to all humans everywhere? Simply put, it cannot by virtue of the limitations of the NCAA’s jurisdiction AND the very language it chose. Fans do not have “future opponents” in terms of the rules; nor do non-team members, etc. It seems safe to say, then, that the rule applies on its face to employees of athletic departments but not the world at large.
Prior to August 2013, Bylaw 11.6.1 prohibited schools from off-campus, in-person scouting of opponents for football, basketball, and women’s volleyball—but not for other sports. This was balanced out to some extent thanks to then-Bylaw 11.6.2, which said that football, basketball, and women’s volleyball enjoyed a carve-out from the following prohibition:
…a member institution shall not pay or permit the payment of expenses incurred by its athletics department staff members or representatives (including professional scouting services) to scout its opponents or individuals who represent its opponents…
In other words, you couldn’t scout an opponent in person for your football, basketball, and women’s volleyball teams, but you could pay “representatives” to scout opponents for those sports.
Then, in August 2013, the NCAA changed the rule and prohibited off-campus, in-person scouting of future opponents (in the same season) for all sports but balanced that by completely discarding the prohibition against paying for scouting. In doing so, it published the following rationale:
In the interest of simplicity and consistency, it is appropriate for one rule regarding scouting to apply to all sports. In most cases, video of future opponents is readily available either through institutional exchange, subscription to a recording/dubbing service or internet sites accessible to the general public.
There is only one reasonable interpretation of what happened in August 2013 when the rule was changed: schools can pay third parties to scout opponents.
In other words, 99% of what is being claimed as a dire violation, may not even qualify as an infraction at all. Now, given the wiggle room, there will certainly be something to hang their hat on, unless Coach Harbaugh decides to leave on his own accord (which is clearly what this witch hunt is about).
Now then, moving along to the fascinating beginning of this, especially in light of the volumes of evidence as to other teams engaged in similar conduct (on various levels). This brings us to the bright huge signs pointing right at Ohio State and its known associates. First, we have Ryan Day, whose brother Christopher Day is reportedly the registered agent for the private company, “4th and 1 Investigation and Protective Agency, LLC” which was founded in September of 2020.
The evidence is mounting this was the starting place of the accusations. Next we have Pete Thamel of ESPN, who has curiously had a constant flow of information from the NCAA (against policy). Thamel is a known friend to Urban Myer, with pictures going back to the Gainesville days of Thamel and Urban hanging out. Thamel is a puppet, and his masters are of the house of Ohio State. Christopher Day, mind you, is reportedly a former a federal agent….it grows more and more curious by the moment.
The evidence is mounting, and it appears Ohio State may have unclean hands. Does not excuse any infractions (if any) from Michigan, however, it is curious the media remains mostly silent on this side…especially since it likely involved unlawful, criminal conduct. Investigation in Ohio State’s Involvement; Possible Criminal Liability. To be fair, this is a Michigan-based website, but cites the Atlantic and facts which warrant further inquiry.
Here is a quote from that piece:
“Taking it a step farther, there is a LinkedIn page for a Christopher Day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. One of the areas of expertise listed is “Private Investigations.” Further digging unearthed a “4th and 1 Investigations and Protective Agency, LLC” with a Christopher Day listed as the primary agent. Ryan Day has a brother named Chris who was previously in the DEA according to this 2019 article in The Athletic. The LinkedIn page referenced lists Christopher Day’s prior jobs being government law enforcement. Again, that may be a coincidence and there may be two Christopher Days in New Hampshire with the same professional backgrounds. But it’s definitely worthy of further exploration. To take this a step even further, this private investigative firm may have illegally accessed the computer of Connor Stalions. The Washington Post obtained a spreadsheet of Stalions’ agenda for the games he was allegedly sending his “vast network” to, and Michigan claims that they gained access to the document illegally. Balas reports that “upon investigation, more sources indicated law enforcement has begun looking into the source of the information as a result.”Plocher, Daniel – November 3, 2023.
Hypothetical – let us say Ohio State (Ryan Day, family, co.) did hire a firm to begin this. This is quite the quandary – a hired entity who is breaking the law to expose perceived-rule breaking. Chicken or the egg? Or both? If Day is involved in this unlawful conduct, we are looking at someone cutting off another’s arm to prove the now-armless victim had a paper cut. Sign-stealing vs. espionage and unlawful hacking to attack a party opponent.
Turning to how Michigan fans are reacting, the usual people are starting to share their thoughts.
Charles Woodson said it best: “Michigan has a really good team, make no mistake about it,” Woodson said. “I think we still have something to prove because our schedule isn’t the toughest, so we’ve still got some things to prove. But we’ve got a good team. I just look at it as one of those things where, when you’re at the top, they come for you. They come for you in a lot of different ways. So whether it’s the teams you play getting up for you, or whether it’s somebody trying to find some little chink to say, ‘they ain’t doing it right, they’re beating people too bad'”. Interesting, though, the more independent thinkers not under the compelled speech spell of ESPN are also chiming in. Kirk Herbstreit made it clear on Gameday the rush to judgment and lack of due process is bothersome – to the extent he told some other co-hosts to essentially shut-up but it. Props to Herbstreit to rising above, especially given his Ohio State roots.
NCAA Football is big business, big money, and high stakes. And now, we have weaponized all sorts of aspects of the game and it is making things worse by the second.
Perhaps everyone can shut their mouths, suit up, and play ball. But then again, then we would have to rely on the scoreboard and not other tactics to get to championships…..seems to me that the Big Ten coaches crying to the Big Ten and the NCAA may need to focus on football and not off-field attacks.
Players for years were given 100s of thousands of dollars under the table, cars, women, trips, homes, homes for family members, etc – and the NCAA barely flinched. Now, we have hamburgers and sign-stealing, the embodiment of things every school does, at the heart of a witch hunt.
I, for one, hope that Coach Harbaugh comes out of this without a scratch and as the highest paid coach in the NCAA for two reasons: (1) I am a Michigan fan and he is a great coach; and (2) nothing would make the NCAA look worse than their antics leading to nothing but a bigger paycheck and a team hungry to win.
As to the last few seasons – humorously enough, Ohio State began reporting they “knew” about the sign-stealing prior to the 2022 game and changed their signs (thereby forgoing any claims of an advantage to Michigan; though those claims remain on the tip of every Buckeye’s tongue, oddly enough). Even If true, Michigan had No Advantage in 2022. That said, the Court of Public Opinion has been all but dominated.
For another look and another take, The Atlantic wrote an article looking at the applicable rules and regulations. If there is one thing we can see from all of this; it is how deep the shadows go in NCAA football. Complex sign-stealing, manifestos, private investigation firms unlawfully hacking computers, crying to the Big Ten and NCAA, – this is black ops meets James Bond meets Madden. And it’s all largely irrelevant to what happens between the goal posts.
I, for one, hope we get to go back to The Game and stop the off-the-field-madness. If this were a proper situation, no one would have heard a word until the investigation was completed. Rather, the NCAA has slow-leaked the information a la Chinese Water Torture to prosecute Michigan in the Court of Public Opinion. Occam’s Razor would suggest this is so because NCAA has an agenda and knows the merits are weak. Hanlon’s Razor does not apply; there is malice aforethought in the actions of puppets pulling stings against Michigan.
While this story shines light on battle lines – there is one thing we can all agree one, and that is Belichick is about to offer Connor Stalions a large salary…..