NCAA president Charlie Baker explains 'unusual' decision to reveal Michigan sign-stealing investigation

PHOENIX — NCAA president Charlie Baker does not regret his unprecedented approach to the Michigan sign-stealing investigation last year and believes that exposing the scheme legitimized the Wolverines' national championship victory on Monday.

“I don’t regret doing it because sitting on that information, given the comprehensiveness of it, I think we would have put everyone, including Michigan, in an awful place,” Baker told a small group of reporters from the NCAA convention. “As it was, it was out in the public domain, and people either made adjustments or didn’t. At the end of the day, no one believes at this point that Michigan didn’t win the national title fair and square.”

In October, Baker, in his eighth month as NCAA president, made the unusual decision to reveal to a school, Michigan, and a conference, the Big Ten, initial findings of an active NCAA investigation. The intel triggered an avalanche of decisions, including the resignation of the primary subject, low-level staff member Connor Stalions, a three-game suspension for head coach Jim Harbaugh handed down by Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti, and the dismissal of an assistant coach who is alleged to have interfered in the NCAA’s inquiry.

Baker acknowledged his decision was “unusual” but said he he believes the result brought more integrity to Michigan’s run in the College Football Playoff. The Wolverines went 8-0 after the scheme was exposed publicly in a story by Yahoo Sports.

“Part of the reason I thought it important to talk to the Big Ten and Michigan about this was it might affect the outcome of games,” he said. “I don’t believe at the end of the season that it did.”

The NCAA’s investigation into Michigan is ongoing, and though Baker was unclear on a timeline for a ruling, he said he hopes the inquiry will accelerate now that the season is complete. Michigan's on-field coaches have not yet been interviewed by the NCAA staff, something Baker said he's “hoping” happens soon now that the season is complete.

The NCAA’s investigative process is a lengthy labyrinth of steps, preventing the organization from levying penalties like the one the Big Ten issued with the Harbaugh suspension. However, Baker is in discussions with the NCAA infractions staff on expediting such inquiries.

“Certainly, in a case like this, you’d like it to move along more quickly,” he said.

Baker did not attend the national title game but watched on television as the Wolverines beat Washington 34-13 to cap a 15-0 season and their first consensus national championship since 1948.

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 17: Charlie Baker, left,  
president of the NCAA, and Tony Petitti, commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, arrive for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled
NCAA president Charlie Baker (left) and Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti both played important roles in the reaction to Michigan's sign-stealing scandal this season. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

“The good thing about the game is Michigan was clearly the better team [Monday] night,” Baker said. “As a fan, you hope for a really close game where one team is going to go away victorious and the other team is going to go away thinking, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe we didn’t win that!’ Or you want to have a game where there is a clearly defined outcome. In this case, Michigan won.”

The sign-stealing scheme rocked college football last season and cast doubt, for some, on the legitimacy of Michigan’s national title. Several high-level college administrators and coaches have said they believe the Wolverines’ title is tainted.

Michigan officials and players pushed back strongly on such a notion during the postgame celebration Monday in Houston. Asked about an “asterisk” being applied to the title, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel told Yahoo Sports, “Hell nah. Why? I don’t know why. They proved it on the field. Why would somebody wanna say now that there’s some asterisk? Ridiculous. This team has proven they’re a champion. Period. End of story.”

During his interview from Phoenix on Tuesday, Baker detailed how the NCAA learned of the Stalions-led, in-person scouting scheme. The tip came from an independent third party that presented the NCAA with “very comprehensive” evidence during a trip to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.

“They showed it, and it was very compelling,” Baker said. “We had to make a decision at that point. Because it was the kind of thing that had consequences for the outcome of games, we made an unusual decision to simultaneously call the Big Ten and Michigan and tell them about this, and we got on a whole bunch of calls and Zooms and shared the first pieces of what we’ve been given.”