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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.

Bacon on football: Michigan sign-stealing scandal continues as Wolverines' schedule heats up

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, front left, watches against Rutgers as analytics assistant Connor Stalions, center right, looks on during an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sept. 23, 2023. Stalions was suspended by the university and is at the center of a sign-stealing scheme that is being investigated by the NCAA. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya
Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh (front left) watches the Wolverines during a game against Rutgers in September in Ann Arbor. U of M analytics assistant Connor Stalions (center right) is the focus of a sign-stealing scandal. The Big Ten Conference indicated this week that it intends to punish Michigan over the allegations.

The University of Michigan’s sign-stealing scandal remains far from resolved.

This week, the Big Ten Conference issued a notice of its intent to discipline Michigan. U of M responded in a letter that reportedly questioned the speed of the process, the Big Ten’s authority, and more. Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti has yet to respond.

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

Saturday's games: Michigan at Penn State - Noon
Michigan State at Ohio State - 7:30 p.m.

Doug Tribou: John, some of our listeners have jobs and kids and other obligations that keep them from following every twist and turn of this scandal. So just to clarify for them, the Big Ten Conference is considering its own punishments for Michigan. This is separate from any response by the NCAA, which is expected to take much longer. What are the possible penalties the Big Ten could hand down here?

John U. Bacon: Well, to give your busy listeners a quick handle on this one, nobody knows anything. So if anybody tells you they know what's going to happen, knows what the Big Ten or the NCAA is going to do, or how Michigan is going to respond, or what's going to happen to the football team or Jim Harbaugh, they're lying. Nobody knows. So how's that for a helpful little guide as we go forward?

DT: There are also reports out that other Big Ten schools engaged in sign-stealing efforts of their own and shared their findings about Michigan’s signs with each another. On top of that 11 Michigan state legislators sent a bi-partisan letter to the Big Ten urging the conference to focus on due process. In all of this chaos, is the bottom line really a tainted season for Michigan?

JUB: That depends entirely on whom you ask, and that will be sorted out as the weeks go on as to the relative level of guilt and so on. But sports like politics has become very tribal. I guarantee you Michigan fans see it one way and Spartan and Buckeye fans see it another.

"If anybody tells you they know what's going to happen ... they're lying. Nobody knows."
John U. Bacon on likely outcomes from Michigan football's ongoing sign-stealing scandal.

I will say this: the big development this week has been a 10-page response from the University of Michigan to the Big Ten. And I have to tell you, Doug, I've never seen anything quite like it. Now, I'm not a lawyer. I went to law school for 5 minutes. You don't get credit for that, it turns out. But they have basically just torn apart the Big Ten's process and [the conference's] email limb by limb. It's just been incredible. The fight is on. I've never seen Michigan push back like this. And the Big Ten was talking about disciplining Michigan this week. They've now gone surprisingly quiet.

DT: Let’s turn to Michigan’s matchup on Saturday. The Wolverines will be on the road against Penn State. In the latest College Football Playoff poll, Michigan is No. 3 in the country. Penn State is No. 10. What will you be watching for in this one?

JUB: This one's simple. Is Michigan for real or not? It's very bizarre to say this in the 10th week of a 12-week season. But Michigan has not played a top 25 opponent yet. Penn State looked pretty bad versus Ohio State a few weeks ago. But last week against Maryland, they won 51-15.

DT: The good news for Michigan State football is the Spartans got a win last weekend. They narrowly beat Nebraska. Prior to that, MSU had lost six straight games. The bad news is their next opponent is Ohio State in Columbus Saturday night. Would you call that an ideal momentum-building opportunity for MSU? [Laughs]

JUB: How about I classify that as "less than optimal?" Okay? That's my new category for that one. Look, the silver lining for Spartan fans is two things. One, their season is now off the field, and they're looking for a new coach and they're talking about getting Urban Meyer, Ohio State's former coach who had beat Michigan seven times in a row. That would be delicious, of course, for the Spartans, if that happens. Who knows?

The third thing, of course, is Michigan State basketball. But that was a rough start to that one as well.

DT: [Laughs] Right. A season-[opening] loss for [MSU coach] Tom Izzo and his troops earlier this week.

It's yet another week, John, with the Detroit Lions in first place, though, in the NFC North in the NFL. The Lions are 6-2 on the season and coming off a bye week. They'll be in Los Angeles to face the Chargers Sunday afternoon. The Chargers are 4-4. This feels very much like the Lions' last game against the Raiders.

JUB: I was told when I started coaching, myself — high school hockey — from Red Berenson, Michigan's hockey coach: your first job as a head coach is to beat the teams you're supposed to beat and then do your best against the good ones. Well, this is a team that the Lions are supposed to beat at 4-4. And look, 6-2, that's halfway through the season, basically. And they're still a for-real team. Doug, this is —trust me — news.

DT: [Laughs] Okay. John, thanks a lot.

JUB: Thank you, Doug. Always a pleasure.

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.

John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
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.
Caoilinn Goss is the producer for Morning Edition. She started at Michigan Public during the summer of 2023.
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