Michigan sign-stealing scandal: Big deal or nothingburger?

The most important question to be answered regarding the alleged Michigan sign-stealing scandal is this: Did the Wolverines gain a distinct advantage?

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A video made the rounds Tuesday of a play during last year’s Ohio State-Michigan game that portends to show the inner workings of the now-infamous Connor Stalions.

In the video (shown below), then-OSU QB C.J. Stroud backs out from center and looks to his sideline for instruction. On the other sideline, Stalions, the Michigan staffer who’s now in the middle of the Wolverines’ alleged sign-stealing scandal, can be seen glaring intently across the field, presumably looking for the same signal Stroud is. As soon as Stroud turns back toward center, Stalions jabs his finger in the air, a motion that usually signals a pass play.

Connor Stalions, middle wearing a baseball hat, can be seen on the Michigan sideline. (@AdamKing10TV/X)
Connor Stalions, middle wearing a baseball hat, can be seen on the Michigan sideline. (@AdamKing10TV/X)

To the NCAA, this — (allegedly) stealing a sign in real time — is within the rules. What has Michigan in the NCAA’s crosshairs is alleged in-person advanced scouting, which is a violation. And if there’s enough evidence to show Stalions, either acting alone or in concert with others on the Michigan coaching staff, coordinated in-person scouting of future opponents, the NCAA should react appropriately.

With every passing day, the circumstantial evidence continues to mount, including a report late Tuesday from Yahoo Sports' Ross Dellenger that last season Stalions purchased tickets to games featuring potential College Football Playoff opponents.

The plume of smoke surrounding Stalions — and Michigan — keeps growing.

With that said, the most important question to be answered is this: Did the Wolverines gain a distinct advantage if, in fact, they were using illegal scouting to steal signals?

Well, not much of an advantage if you listen to Deion Sanders or Aaron Rodgers, who both offered interesting takes on the situation Tuesday.

“You can have someone’s whole game plan, they can mail it to you, you still gotta stop it,” Sanders said.

Rodgers went a little deeper, explaining that if he is able to decipher a defensive signal that calls for a certain coverage, his offensive line still has to keep him upright, he still has to look a safety away from where he wants to throw it, the receiver has to shake the coverage and get to the spot where the ball is supposed to be thrown, Rodgers has to put it there and the receiver has to make the catch.

“If anybody does anything different — I get sacked, pressured, safety doesn’t jump 'em — who gives a sh** if you know what the signal is?” Rodgers explained on “The Pat McAfee Show.” “… You still gotta execute.”

Sanders, who knows a bit about both football and baseball, said sign stealing does give a distinct advantage to the latter, not so much to the former. “If I know a curveball is coming, I got you. In football, I don’t give a darn if you know a sweep is coming, you still gotta stop it.”

This is why the “Brotherly Shove” has become my favorite play. Everyone in the building knows what’s coming. Everyone at home knows what’s coming. Every Swiftie knows what’s coming. And still the Eagles cannot be stopped.

It's all about execution.

Michigan is a very good team, maybe the best in college football this season, and the Wolverines are that precisely because they execute with precision, not because they're stealing signs.

Again, this isn’t to absolve them of potential wrongdoing. But it is to suggest that, using a speed-limit analogy, they’d have gotten home 20 seconds later had they obeyed the law.

Going back to the play on the video making the rounds Tuesday, it’s third-and-goal for Ohio State at the Michigan 4-yard line. Sniffing out a pass play in that situation wasn’t exactly genius.

So what happened next?

Stroud hit Emeka Egbuka on a crossing route for a touchdown.

Make of that what you will.