NCAA enforcement staff have been at the University of Michigan this week to look into the sign-stealing probe, sources told ESPN.
The arrival of NCAA enforcement just a week after the investigation formally launched is an indication of the priority the case has taken, according to ESPN sources.
The Big Ten confirmed last week that the NCAA was investigating “allegations of sign stealing by the University of Michigan football program.” Since that time, Michigan has suspended Connor Stalions, an analyst making $55,000 a year that ESPN had identified as one of the centers of the probe.
ESPN previously reported that Stalions purchased tickets to games at 12 of 13 possible Big Ten schools, the 2021 and 2022 SEC title games and games in four campus stadiums tied to four different College Football Playoff contenders last year. Overall, Stalions left a paper trail of at least 35 games at 17 stadiums around the country, according to sources.
A source confirmed to ESPN that the NCAA has begun to search the electronics of Michigan football staff members, which was first reported by the Detroit News. ESPN reported last week that the NCAA had immediate interest in Stalions’ computer, and it appears that the scope of the NCAA’s interest has expanded.
ESPN also reported that the NCAA received stadium surveillance video this week of a person sitting in the seat purchased by Stalions using electronics to film a game, which is not allowed under NCAA rules.
The Washington Post reported this week that an outside investigative firm approached the NCAA on Tuesday of last week and presented them extensive evidence on Michigan’s signal-stealing operation. The NCAA investigation officially began the next day, and the Post reported it’s not known who hired the outside firm that presented it to the NCAA.
The entire scenario unfolding around Michigan is unprecedented, as the NCAA has never litigated an alleged college football signal-stealing scheme of this breadth. And the manner in which the information was reportedly presented to the NCAA — by a private firm not tied to traditional law enforcement — would be considered highly unusual.
This comes at a time when the Wolverines are ranked No. 2 in the country and recently became the betting favorite to win the College Football Playoff. ESPN sources indicated that Stallions bought tickets beginning with the first week of the 2021 season, and since that time Michigan has gone 33-3 overall and 22-1 in Big Ten play. Michigan made the College Football Playoff in back-to-back seasons in 2021 and 2022.
The time frame of the NCAA’s investigation is uncertain, but multiple people familiar generally with NCAA investigation timelines have told ESPN that it’s logistically impossible for the Michigan case to play out before the end of the football season.
Consider that the NCAA still completed Michigan’s other outstanding NCAA case, which is tied to recruiting allegations during the COVID-19 dead period, the timeline of this case being finalized before the start of the 2024 season would be unlikely.
Once the NCAA investigation ends and a notice of allegations is sent, Michigan would have 90 days to respond, according to NCAA bylaws. That would mean if the investigation ended this week — which is virtually impossible — Michigan would not be required to respond until well after the College Football Playoff.
Any action this season would have to come from the Big Ten, as the league has a Sportsmanship Policy that includes the authority for Commissioner Tony Petitti to take disciplinary action.