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The Michigan Wolverines, Connor Stalions, and Jim Harbaugh Situation: An Outsider's Perspective

Over the past two weeks or so, information has come about that has put the Michigan football program in hot water. According to ESPN and multiple other sources, allegations of sign-stealing, videotaping opponent sidelines, and being on the sidelines of certain opponents have surrounded the Michigan program, and it all seems to center around one guy---Michigan assistant and retired Marine Captain* Connor Stalions. Stalions is accused of playing more than his fair share of 'dirty pool' for Michigan football, being the ringleader in these sign-stealing operations and general shady dealings that have been brought to light. Since these allegations, Stalions has been suspended indefinitely from the program and investigations have begun for schools that Stalions allegedly scouted out from their own sidelines such as Central Michigan. Not only are those schools beginning their own investigations, but the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference are as well. According to Fox Sports, a whopping 94% of coaches think what Stalions and company allegedly have done is wrong and deserves major punishment. Things are looking very bad, very quickly for the Michigan football program, and they may be continuing to make things worse.

On Tuesday, it was announced that Jim Harbaugh and Michigan are working on a contract to make him the highest-paid college football coach ever, per Sports Illustrated. Originally, the Wall Street Journal had reported that Michigan had rescinded Harbaugh's contract, citing these allegations as the reasoning behind the action. This report came out this past Sunday but was disputed by Harbaugh, who labeled the report "inaccurate" and told the press that Michigan does not like to be public with contract talks. Michigan and Harbaugh do seem to be still in talks, for all we know given that reports are still coming out that Michigan and Harbaugh want to set a record with this new deal, but allegedly may have paused talks to deal with the reports coming out about Stalions, which potentially may have prompted the Wall Street Journal report. It was reported to Adam Rittenburg that Harbaugh was instructed not to sign yet, but that doesn't necessarily mean talks are paused. There's frankly no guarantees these talks are, in fact, still paused, given the reports that came out just this week regarding the massive extension. The question is, how long does this pause (if it is there) going to last? Will it last long enough for Michigan to clear Harbaugh's name, or will Michigan sit on their hands? Even worse, will Michigan end up signing him prematurely?

The investigation regarding Stalions is seemingly far from over, so why is Michigan (if they are continuing talks about signing Harbaugh to an extension) all but clearing Harbaugh of any wrongdoing? How do they know that Harbaugh wasn't aware or even complicit with these alleged actions taken by Stallions? Just based on a singular statement he made? Surely they know that if Harbaugh does sign and it turns out he has blood on his hands regarding this issue, they will be hit by the full force of the Big Ten Conference and NCAA, so why not act? Why not perform your own internal investigation, be fully compliant with the NCAA, and clear your head coach's name, rather than simply suspend just one assistant? Plain and simple, that is not good enough, nor is just saying Harbaugh was instructed not to sign. Why is that, exactly? Care to explain? This certainly isn't good optics for Michigan, whether or not Harbaugh was complicit, the handling of this investigation by the school has been less than desirable. Judging by Harbaugh's answers in the press conference shown above, it doesn't exactly seem like Michigan's or Harbaugh's focus is to take this seriously and with intent to clear their name. They "have a one-track mind."

Many outside the Michigan program are calling for Michigan to not just pause the Harbaugh contract talks, but to be fully compliant with the NCAA and Big Ten. Understand that in order to clear your name, you need to comply in full first and show intent to comply. Yes, suspending Stalions is a step forward, but frankly, it's the least they could do regarding this matter. New information regarding Stalions's and Michigan Football's alleged actions is coming out by the day, and the longer Michigan sits on this without taking any action with the true intent of cooperation, the worse this becomes for them. Yes, Harbaugh made a statement denying any knowledge of any wrongdoing, but actions taken since then have not spoken that. Being clear and intentional seems like the only option here, but when you're not and instead talking about extending a guy that was potentially complicit with it, you all but screw yourself out of clearing your name.

The fact of the matter is that these investigations have just scratched the surface, there's potentially something much bigger facing Michigan and the fact that they're talking about extending a guy who potentially was aware, complicit, and/or lacking any institutional control of his program only makes things worse. There's no guarantee that Harbaugh told the truth, and there's been no statement from the Athletic Director or anyone at Michigan other than Harbaugh that can be found on public record. There is still so much up in the air, but it reeks of trouble to those outside Michigan's sphere of influence. Who's to know what will happen, Michigan must be vocal, accountable, and transparent in this situation if they are, in fact, pausing talks and focusing on the investigations at hand. The court of public opinion is mostly against them, no matter what Urban Meyer or anyone else "defending" Michigan says. No more being private about contract talks, no more being coy regarding a potentially serious situation, this isn't the time for it. If Harbaugh takes the fall, you will as well unless you show intent. You must state openly that you are pausing talks until further notice and until Harbaugh/Michigan Football is cleared of any wrongdoing, and that you will openly comply with investigations ongoing just as much as Central Michigan has. Focus on clearing the name and the brand first.

You're already facing a potentially hefty punishment for even allowing Stalions to be in the program, to begin with, but being ignorant of Harbaugh's potential involvement and continuing to allow talks of him becoming the highest-paid coach in college football will only make things worse. Shut it down for now, be intentional, play the waiting game, be accountable, and allow due process to happen. It could save your program from postseason bans, scholarship reductions, or even worse. You can't be "one-track minded" in this situation. You have to do better.

This could be similar to the investigation into Kansas Basketball. Minor punishments because of compliance and the proof of no lack of institutional control... or, by Michigan and Harbaugh's own undoing, could be similar to the investigation that was done to SMU Football in the 1980s, where the death penalty was given and lack of institutional control was not only displayed but encouraged and lied about, and frankly, it's Michigan's choice what their fate is, especially if these allegations turn out to be true and it turns out Harbaugh was, in fact, complicit. It may not result in the death penalty, depending on what's found, who's lying, and who isn't, but do you really want to risk that given the information you know and choose to keep on the down low versus what the NCAA and Big Ten can dig up? You've been accountable to frankly, a mediocre degree as of now, it's time to be fully responsible for any wrongdoing or clear your name by just being compliant to the fullest degree you can be until you're made to do so by the higher powers that be in college football...

*Editors Note: The article was updated as the earlier version incorrectly referred to Mr. Stalion as a former Navy SEAL.

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