Either everyone's guilty, or no one is

The Michigan sign-stealing controversy has taken a new turn, and now three other Big Ten schools have found themselves in the spotlight alongside the Wolverines.

The Michigan sign-stealing controversy has taken a new turn, and now three other Big Ten schools have found themselves in the spotlight alongside the Wolverines.

‌At Michigan, Connor Stalions allegedly ran a smash-and-grab sign-stealing operation. Ohio State, Rutgers and Purdue, meanwhile, were reportedly operating the equivalent of a criminal conspiracy. It was pure white-collar stuff.

In the end, they both allegedly stole, or participated in the stealing of, the same thing — information on opponents' play signals in an effort to secure an advantage.

It's just that one was a ski mask bank robbery. The other was an inside job, cleanly wiring the money to the Caribbean.

Forget all the noise. Forget the grandstanding coaches screaming for Jim Harbaugh’s head. Forget if Michigan deserves all the scorn.

Forget even what or when the punishments should be.

Whatever it is, just make it even, because the actions of Connor Stalions and the actions that Ohio State, Rutgers and Purdue allegedly engaged in are the exact same thing.

Yes, the exact same thing.

Stalions sent friends out to film the sideline signals of future Wolverine opponents. He then got the video and allegedly worked to decipher the play calls. It appears one time he even stood on a Central Michigan sideline comically wearing what looks like spy glasses to scout Michigan State.

These were blatant, brazen acts. While stealing signs isn’t against NCAA rules, advanced scouting is. Stalions was clearly engaging in that.

Last Friday, however, Michigan presented the Big Ten with evidence that someone on the Rutgers football staff provided Michigan’s defensive signals to Purdue in advance of the Boilermaker-Wolverine 2022 Big Ten title game. Meanwhile, someone at Ohio State handed over U of M’s offensive signals.

So in the Big Ten championship, both teams had the other’s signals, both of which were gathered via advanced scouting. (Michigan won, 43-22.)

In Michigan’s case, the “advanced scouts” were Stalions’ band of iPhone-toting buddies.

In Purdue’s case, the “advanced scouts” were the professional coaching staffs of two other Big Ten teams that had just played the Wolverines, and thus could battle-test the signs they stole as accurate.

Which would you rather have? Raw cell phone footage that still needs to be broken down, or highly experienced coaches just handing over their work?

Everyone would choose the Purdue option.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 26: Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti during the Big Ten Conference Media Days on July 26, 2023 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Tony Petitti, who took the position as Big Ten commissioner in May, is contemplating suspending Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. (James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Even if Ohio State and Rutgers acquired Michigan signs via NCAA-legal game film or during game action, it doesn’t matter. Purdue didn’t do that work. The Boilermakers received stolen signs from advanced scouting. They cheated as much as Michigan.

Additionally, the Purdue person receiving the advanced scouting work was almost assuredly, at the very least, an assistant coach. The NCAA investigation, sources say, hasn’t found any proof anyone in Ann Arbor knew how Stalions got so good at deciphering signs. He apparently hid his act.

So why is the NCAA aggressively investigating Michigan but not Purdue and the others? Why is the Big Ten threatening to suspend Harbaugh indefinitely but doesn’t seem to care about anyone else?

Why is the NCAA not immediately sending investigators to Ohio State and Rutgers to find out who else received these reports?

Why is the Big Ten not instantly warning future opponents of Purdue, Ohio State and Rutgers that the competitive integrity of their games are in doubt considering past behavior?

Why isn't the Big Ten contemplating how the league’s nebulous “sportsmanship” policy applies to three teams conspiring against one?

Good questions.

All we know is some still-unidentified entity hired a still-unidentified private investigator to uncover Stalions' antics in the hopes that the NCAA and the Big Ten would do exactly what they did — fall for the okey doke and naively overreact.

Charlie Baker has been NCAA president since March. Tony Petitti has been Big Ten commissioner since May. Neither has much experience with this stuff — Baker was a politician, Petitti mostly a television executive.

They didn’t know what they didn’t know. Together they opened Pandora’s Box.

Mostly they listened to football coaches who view one kind of advanced scouting as gamesmanship, and another as a kind of crime. The coaches’ reasoning? Sending around stolen signs and game plans is common practice, so they don’t care. What Connor Stalions did is apparently not so common, so they did care.

But who in their right mind would listen to such reasoning? Who would be so dumb to agree with it? Who would let the thieves define theft?

Football coaches are rarely deep thinkers. They aren’t spending time contemplating law, precedent, ethics or unintended consequences. They just want Jim Harbaugh gone.

Real leadership would have known about all the advanced scouting and stolen signs pinging into email boxes across the league each week. They would have thought through the intricacies of the situation. They’d know better than to, in effect, let a Wall Street fraudster say the real criminal is the subway purse snatcher.

They wouldn’t have served as pawns for whomever hired that private investigator.

Well, too late for that apparently. If they are going to hammer Jim Harbaugh and Michigan, so be it.

But the same crime is still the same crime, and if anyone took a moment to do their actual job, they’d realize it.