FOX 2 (WJBK) - The University of Michigan filed a temporary restraining order against the Big 10 Conference for suspending football coach Jim Harbaugh for the rest of the season.
The disciplinary action, keeping him off the sidelines is in response to the sign-stealing allegations and investigation of the program.
The order was filed Friday night in the 22nd Circuit Court of Washtenaw County, aiming to prevent the Big 10 from enacting the suspension until the court agrees.
Evidence the conference has is detailed in a terse email from Big 10 Vice President Chad Hawley to U-M Athletic Director Warde Manuel, titled "Sportsmanship Issue."
It says that Connor Stalions - a noncoaching staff member, coordinated a scheme by which individuals were directed to attend games of future opponents.
Hawley says that those who took part were instructed to make video recordings of opposing teams' signals, which violates NCAA football playing rules (prohibition on recording signals given by an opposing player, coach or other team personnel) and the Conference's Football Game Management Manuel (prohibition on taking videos for scouting purposes of games in which the team is not participating).
"These were not isolated or haphazard incidents. The violations were pervasive, systemic, and occurred over multiple years," Hawley wrote. "Specifically, dating back to at least the 2021 season and continuing through the current season, the staff member purchased strategically located tickets for games involving future opponents."
Michigan responded that the timing of the conference's actions coming down on Veterans Day - a court holiday, was by design.
"By taking this action at this hour, the Commissioner is personally inserting himself onto the sidelines and altering the level playing field that he is claiming to preserve," the response said. "And, doing so on Veterans Day – a court holiday – to try to thwart the University from seeking immediate judicial relief is hardly a profile in impartiality. To ensure fairness in the process, we intend to seek a court order, together with Coach Harbaugh, preventing this disciplinary action from taking effect."
Michigan fans had a similar response to the suspension.
"I’m surprised they did it so last second, it feels almost like a cheap shot. ...although I think that’s my Michigan fandom showing through more than an unbiased take," said David McDermott, a student at U-M.
Harbaugh has been suspended for the second time this year. Previously, he was suspended by the university for on and off-campus recruiting during the COVID-19 dead period.
The Big 10 coach has claimed to have no knowledge of the sign stealing.
"Out of everything that I’ve read, it seems like Jim didn’t really know anything about it and, given the reputation as a team all together and how the team reacted to the news, I don’t think they knew anything about it all," said Emma Hans, another U-M student.
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN - NOVEMBER 04: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines looks on in the first half while playing the Purdue Boilermakers at Michigan Stadium on November 04, 2023 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Ima
In a statement, the conference said:
"The Big Ten Conference announced today that the University of Michigan has been found in violation of the Big Ten Sportsmanship Policy for conducting an impermissible, in-person scouting operation over multiple years, resulting in an unfair competitive advantage that compromised the integrity of competition.
"Big Ten Conference Agreement 10.01 states in part that "The Big Ten Conference expects all contests involving a member institution to be conducted without compromise to any fundamental element of sportsmanship. Such fundamental elements include integrity of the competition, civility toward all, and respect, particularly toward opponents and officials."
"As a penalty imposed on the institution, the University football team must compete without its Head Football Coach for the games remaining in the 2023 regular-season, effective immediately. This disciplinary action shall not preclude the University or its football team from having its Head Football Coach attend practices or other football team activities other than the game activities to which it applies. For clarity, the Head Football Coach shall not be present at the game venue on the dates of the games to which this disciplinary action applies.
"The Big Ten Conference will have no additional comment at this time."
The Wolverines, ranked No. 2 overall and No. 3 in the College Football Playoff Rankings, have three remaining games in the regular season. Michigan plays at No. 9 Penn State on Saturday, then plays at Maryland on Nov. 18 and hosts No. 3 Ohio State at noon on Nov. 25.
The university's full response is below:
"Like all members of the Big Ten Conference, we are entitled to a fair, deliberate, and thoughtful process to determine the full set of facts before a judgment is rendered. Today’s action by Commissioner Tony Petitti disregards the Conference's own handbook, violates basic tenets of due process, and sets an untenable precedent of assessing penalties before an investigation has been completed. We are dismayed at the Commissioner's rush to judgment when there is an ongoing NCAA investigation – one in which we are fully cooperating.
"Commissioner Petitti’s hasty action today suggests that this is more about reacting to pressure from other Conference members than a desire to apply the rules fairly and impartially. By taking this action at this hour, the Commissioner is personally inserting himself onto the sidelines and altering the level playing field that he is claiming to preserve. And, doing so on Veteran’s Day – a court holiday – to try to thwart the University from seeking immediate judicial relief is hardly a profile in impartiality. To ensure fairness in the process, we intend to seek a court order, together with Coach Harbaugh, preventing this disciplinary action from taking effect."
The NCAA inquiry was triggered by an outside firm’s investigation, which turned up videos of and documented plans and budgets for impermissible scouting of opponents. The Washington Post reported the firm obtained computer drives maintained and accessed by multiple Michigan coaches.
The firm presented evidence to the NCAA and suggested Stalions, a low-level staffer who has been suspended by Michigan, was not the only person on staff aware of the scheme, according to the report. A second person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to the AP that a firm provided the NCAA with evidence, including photographs, videos and documents, that initiated the association’s investigation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.