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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

John U. Bacon: Sign-stealing allegations could have broad implications for Michigan

Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter, center right, watches against East Carolina as analytics assistant Connor Stalions, center left, looks on during an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sept. 2, 2023. Stalions was suspended by the university last week and is at the center of a sign-stealing scheme that is being investigated by the NCAA.
Paul Sancya/AP
Michigan football analytics assistant Connor Stalions, center left, looks on during a game in Ann Arbor on Sept. 2. Stalions is at the center of a sign-stealing scheme that's being investigated by the NCAA. U of M has suspended him with pay.

The Michigan Wolverines don't have a football game this weekend, but the team is still getting a lot of attention after more details of an alleged sign-stealing scandal have come out.

Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to discuss the scandal and other sports news.

Saturday: Michigan State at Minnesota - 3:30 p.m. Michigan - off.

Doug Tribou: The NCAA is investigating allegations of an elaborate sign-stealing and scouting system at U of M. Right now, that system appears to center around an assistant named Connor Stalions.

The Washington Post reported some new details this week, including thousands of dollars spent on tickets and travel to see games played by upcoming Michigan opponents. For example, the Post reports Michigan had plans to have staff attend up to eight Ohio State games this season and at least four Georgia games. Scouting in person is illegal under NCAA rules. What's your view of these latest revelations?

John U. Bacon: Well, you can't spin any of them as good for Michigan, obviously, and it seems to trickle out drip by drip, day by day, which is a PR person's nightmare, naturally. The best thing Michigan has going for it, probably, is the nebulousness of this rule.

It's rule 11.6.1. It has been enforced once, back in 2016, when they gave a Baylor assistant coach a half-game suspension. And they, in writing, talked about getting rid of [the rule] two years ago because it was a minimal competitive advantage. That said, on a PR front Michigan is taking it in the chops daily.

"If it's off the table, then the odds of Harbaugh going to the NFL increase. So the whole thing is nothing but negative for Michigan."
John U. Bacon on how sign-stealing allegations against Michigan could affect a new contract offer reportedly in the works for coach Jim Harbaugh.

DT: Connor Stalions has been suspended with pay while the NCAA investigation plays out. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has said he had no knowledge of any sign-stealing systems and it is not illegal to steal signs while you're in the same stadium. But again, you get to this issue of traveling to other stadiums to see upcoming opponents.

With the major caveat that this will likely take a very long time to play out and we do not have all the details yet, what are the biggest concerns for Michigan in all of this? More suspensions, larger penalties?

JUB: Well, I'd say those and more. Distracting [from] what has been a great season, of course. And on top of that, now it puts Jim Harbaugh's tenure at Michigan a bit in the balance, only because they're about to sign him — by the end of the month, they said — to make him the highest paid coach in the Big Ten [Conference]. Now, is that offer off the table or not? If it's off the table, then the odds of Harbaugh going to the NFL increase. So the whole thing is nothing but negative for Michigan.

DT: Let's turn to the NFL, John. The Lions are still in first place in the NFC North, but Detroit got a bit of a reality check last weekend. The Baltimore Ravens cruised to a 38-6 win over the Lions. Up next, Detroit will host the Las Vegas Raiders at Ford Field on Monday night. This feels like a big moment for coach Dan Campbell and his players.

"If they lose again this week ... then you start looking like the old Lions again pretty quickly."
John U. Bacon on the Lions' need to bounce back after a 38-6 loss to Baltimore.

JUB: I think you're right, Doug. They're 5-2. They're currently in third place in the NFL—and hold on to that thought. [Laughs] The only two teams in front of them are the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs who played last [season] in the Super Bowl. So they're in very good company. But after getting blown out last week, if they lose again this week to an average, so-so 3-4 Raiders team, then you start looking like the old Lions again pretty quickly.

DT: The Pistons opened their season Wednesday with a one-point loss to the Miami Heat. I have checked the rule book. Losing by one point is still losing, so Pistons fans will have to wait to see if they can justify feeling some hope about this NBA season. But the good news is it won't take a lot of wins to be better.

JUB: Yeah, that's great news. [Laughs]. After last year's 17 wins, only 18 will do it. And that's still abysmal. But as my father often said — he's 91 years old, Doug — when you're on the floor, you can't fall out of bed. So that's today's pep talk for you.

Editor's notes: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's broadcast license.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Caoilinn Goss is the producer for Morning Edition. She started at Michigan Public during the summer of 2023.
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