The University of Michigan is gearing up for battle.
With the Big Ten poised to decide whether it will suspend Michigan football head coach Jim Harbaugh under the guise of the sportsmanship bylaw, the administration in Ann Arbor is setting up to fight back in a big way.
According to ESPN, as it sets the stage for both camps, U-M is consulting with Williams & Connolly, a Washington D.C. firm that is known to be among the nation’s most powerful and is particularly adept at its investigative (as well as litigation) prowess.
If the Big Ten does decide to discipline Harbaugh or the team, multiple sources have told ESPN that the university plans to use the legal system to fight back. Depending on the scope of the sanction, attorneys for the university or for Harbaugh could ask a judge for a temporary restraining order to delay a suspension.
According to multiple sources, the university plans to consult with attorneys from Williams & Connolly, a large, national firm based in Washington, to weigh their legal options. Harbaugh hired attorney Tom Mars to help with a different NCAA investigation and suspension earlier this year. Mars has served as an attorney for several coaches and college athletes battling the NCAA over eligibility issues or sanctions.
Michigan likely will argue that the Big Ten had agreed to monitor the NCAA investigation and await its results, and only intervened as a response to pressure from competitors within the conference. The Big Ten did not initiate its own investigation, which the sportsmanship policy allows, and has essentially been relying on information from various sources during an ongoing external probe. The information about Michigan only surfaced weeks ago, and college athletics have a long history of much more serious infractions that have taken much longer to be resolved.
In recent days, it’s been revealed that the NCAA has not implicated Harbaugh in Connor Stalions’ sign-stealing operation. It’s also alleged that Rutgers and Ohio State provided Purdue a fairly complete dossier of Michigan’s signals. That has called into question how that methodology differs from Stalions’ operation.
It’s unclear whether commissioner Tony Petitti has been swayed by any of the aforementioned, and if he hasn’t, then Harbaugh could be suspended, perhaps indefinitely, by Michigan’s own conference — despite having yet to receive a notice of allegations from the NCAA. Should that be the case, reports indicate the Wolverines are setting up for an injunction or a temporary restraining order, which would allow Harbaugh to continue as planned.