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NCAA investigating allegations of sign-stealing by University of Michigan football

FILE - Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh gestures during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football semifinal playoff game against TCU, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)
Rick Scuteri/AP
FR157181 AP
FILE - Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh denied any knowledge or involvement in alleged plotting to steal opponents' play-calling signals by sending representatives to their games and said he would fully cooperate with an NCAA investigation into the allegations against his program.

“I do not have any knowledge or information regarding the University of Michigan football program illegally stealing signals, nor have I directed any staff member or others to participate in an off-campus scouting assignment,” Harbaugh said Thursday in a statement. “I have no awareness of anyone on our staff having done that or having directed that action.”

The Big Ten also announced it had been informed of the investigation. But the conference provided no further details, only to say that it had notified Michigan’s upcoming opponents.

The Wolverines (7-0), who started their season with Harbaugh serving a university-imposed three-game suspension for a still unresolved NCAA infractions case, play at Michigan State on Saturday.

“I want to personally assure you that U-M Athletics will offer its complete cooperation to the NCAA in this matter,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said Thursday. “At the University of Michigan, all of us are committed to the highest standards of ethics and integrity for all members of our community. This is the same expectation I have of all coaches, staff, and student-athletes.”

Michigan is coming off two straight playoff appearances under Harbaugh and is currently tied with No. 1 Georgia as the odds-on favorite to win the national title, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

The NCAA does not have rules specifically against stealing signs, but it does prohibit in-person advanced scouting of opponents and using electronic equipment to record an opponents' signals. There are also bylaws prohibiting unsportsmanlike or unethical activities.

The NCAA had no comment, and the league offered little more.

“The Big Ten Conference considers the integrity of competition to be of utmost importance and will continue to monitor the investigation,” the league said in a statement.

Michigan has been tied up in an infractions case involving impermissible contact with high school prospects during the pandemic recruiting dead period for more than a year. Trying to get out in front of any possible NCAA punishment, the school hit Harbaugh with a three-game suspension in August, and he missed Michigan's first three games.

It hardly mattered. The Wolverines have plowed through their opposition, winning by an average of 33 points per game.

That case has not yet been resolved as the NCAA's committee on infractions rejected a potential negotiated resolution regarding Harbaugh’s involvement in the case based on his lack of cooperation with investigators.

“I do not condone or tolerate anyone doing anything illegal or against NCAA rules,” Harbaugh said. “No matter what program or organization that I have led throughout my career, my instructions and awareness of how we scout opponents have always been firmly within the rules.”

Complaints about possible sign-stealing have become somewhat common among college football coaches.

College football does not use the radio technology in helmets used by the NFL to allow coaches to communicate with players on the field. Hand signals and even large, elaborate play cards are often used on the sideline during games to call in plays for both offense and defense.

Coaches typically take steps to ensure play signals do not show up on game film that teams are given to scout opponents.

“I think it’s ridiculous what goes on," said Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi, who was formerly the Michigan State defensive coordinator but has not faced Michigan in nine seasons leading the Panthers. “That doesn’t shock me if it happened. I’m not accusing anybody, but to me that’s been happening for a while.”

The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.