Hayes: It's Michigan vs. The World ... and Michigan keeps winning, Jim Harbaugh's suspension be damned
This isn’t about a top-10 game, Michigan’s important win Saturday at Penn State a mere a sideshow to the carnival unfolding in the stoic and stodgy and holier-than-thou Big Ten.
There’s a conspiracy playing out right in front of our faces, and all we can see is big, bad Jim Harbaugh — and his 3-game suspension from the Big Ten.
I’m not talking grassy knoll or tinfoil nonsense, this is a conspiracy by definition: 2 or more persons come together with a plan to harm another — and then act on the agreement.
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And like most conspiracies, the collateral damage will be more damaging than the crime itself.
“All of the Head Coaches in the Big Ten (some who have been accused of actively participating in the trading of signals of opponents) and my Big Ten AD colleagues can rejoice today that someone was ‘held accountable,’” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said in a statement. “But they should be worried about the new standard of judgment (without complete investigation) that has been unleashed in this conference.”
I know this is going to shock you, but take a wild stab in the dark who’s behind this? The NCAA, the gang that can’t shoot straight.
And, of course, Ohio State — but we’ll get to the Buckeyes (and other Michigan rivals) soon enough.
First, before we go further, a low level Michigan staffer’s alleged scheme to scout future opponents and record signals is a violation of NCAA bylaws. If proven true, Michigan should be punished. That’s not even in question.
How the NCAA got that information (hello, Ohio State, and other Michigan rivals), and how it then shared that information with the Big Ten — giving the Big Ten cover to suspend Harbaugh because it didn’t have specific rules in its charter to do so — is how this conspiracy took flight.
Let’s be intellectually honest here. The NCAA has been ticked off and embarrassed since the beginning of the season, when Michigan and Harbaugh wiggled out of a significant Harbaugh suspension for a separate allegation/investigation from the 2020 season and essentially decided on their own how they would punish themselves. Michigan self-imposed a 3-game suspension to begin the season when the NCAA wanted more.
There’s a common denominator with both NCAA investigations: The NCAA told the Big Ten it doesn’t have proof that Harbaugh knew about the future scouting scheme, and the NCAA doesn’t have proof Harbaugh knew about staff members illegally meeting with recruits during the COVID season.
Read that again: The NCAA has no proof.
It is here where we introduce Ohio State, which has had its nose bloodied by Michigan the past 2 seasons and must play at Ann Arbor at the end of the month in what will likely be a game of unbeatens with the Big Ten Championship and a Playoff spot on the line.
Ohio State is piping mad about Michigan’s alleged scheme, because that’s why they have no answer for Michigan and that’s why the Wolverines have won 35 of their past 38 games. And that’s why Ohio State is on the verge of losing 3 in a row in the bitter series for the first time since the 1990s.
The same Ohio State that, according to Sports Illustrated, sent Michigan’s offensive signals to Purdue before last year’s Big Ten Championship Game, while Rutgers sent Purdue the Michigan defensive signals. That’s future scouting, folks.
It may not look like — or have the sex appeal of — a low level staffer wearing sunglasses and stealing signals from a future opponent, but you better believe it’s future scouting.
And now, the conspiracy:
The NCAA got information about Michigan’s alleged scheme from Ohio State and other Wolverines’ rivals in the Big Ten, and used the information to open another investigation. The NCAA and the gang of misfits then leaked the information to media sources, and the social media fire began.
Big Ten coaches and athletic directors then jumped on conference calls with new Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti and declared, among other things, “something had to be done to protect the integrity of the conference,” a Big Ten source told Saturday Tradition.
Petitti, not even 1 year into his new gig and staring at a mutiny, needed a way out. And wouldn’t you know it, guess who was standing there at the door, hat in hand and humbly at the Big Ten’s service.
The NCAA, which then shared investigative information (this almost never happens) with the Big Ten.
The same NCAA that a little more than a year ago passed NCAA bylaw 11.1.1, which imposes a presumption of head coach accountability for impermissible acts by assistant coaches and administrators within the program.
In other words, the head coach can be punished even if he had no knowledge of violations.
The Big Ten doesn’t have this bylaw in its charter but still chose to use the NCAA rule to punish Harbaugh — without interviewing anyone involved. I mean, other than their co-conspirators.
“I find that completely unethical, insulting to a well-established process within the NCAA, and an assault on the rights of everyone (especially in the Big Ten) to be judged by a fair and complete investigation,” Manuel said.
Step by step this conspiracy played out, and all anyone saw was the mean man Harbaugh — instead of how it organically and purposefully evolved from an embarrassed NCAA (from a different Michigan investigation), bitter rivals and a commissioner in a no-win situation.
Time after time during Michigan’s 24-15 win at Penn State on Saturday, Fox play-by-play man Gus Johnson kept referring to the “Big Ten’s 3-game suspension of coach Jim Harbaugh” — but always stopped short with explanation.
Because there is no explanation to punish a team — much less a coach — in the middle of the season without due process.
Look, I’ve said over and over that coaches are responsible for what unfolds on their watch. These men are control freaks; they know everything that goes on within their football buildings.
Harbaugh and the Michigan staff aren’t taking as gold information from low level staffer Connor Stalions if they didn’t know exactly how the information was gleaned. You’re not turning over an operation like that — where 1 mistake can cost you a big play or touchdown — to a guy who has a “beautiful mind” or just “sees things.”
But now the conspiracy is out and clear for all to see — and a much bigger deal than a dorky low level staffer stealing signs from future opponents.
Now the Big Ten and the NCAA, and Ohio State and the 12 dwarves, have done the unthinkable. They’ve opened Pandora’s box.
They’ve given a talented, dangerous team more motivation to win out — and prove week after week that they’re not winning games by cheating.
They’ve also opened the door to all the jealousy and spite and illegal action that happens when it’s clear rivals can sic the NCAA — and now, the Big Ten, too — on each other.
The collateral damage will eventually be more damaging than the crime itself.
Especially if Michigan goes out and wins the whole damn thing.