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Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Michigan Football’s success proves that the sign stealing scandal means little

The boys in blue, the University of Michigan football team, won their first national championship since 1997 and their first outright national championship since Harry Truman was running the country. When Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh hoisted the trophy and was asked the question, “Who has it better than you?” The answer was finally definitive- nobody.

After years of questioning whether or not Harbaugh was the right man for the job, the critics had (seemingly) been silenced at last. Except they weren’t. 

Now, Michigan is one of just six teams in the sport’s long history to go 15-0, but many detractors of the Wolverines are calling it a “tainted championship” that has an “asterisk.”

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Michigan has been under investigation for illegally stealing opponent’s signs via advanced scouting.

Michigan’s success rose out of the misty fog of the infamous scandal surrounding former staffer Connor Stalions. Pointing to the murky and scandalous drama surrounding the program as a means to discredit what Michigan and Harbaugh have accomplished, the detractors have a clear bias that is grounded in either hypocrisy or ignorance.

The Stalions saga has loomed large over one of the most storied, profitable and successful college football programs in the nation. It has been 26 years since the Wolverines last won a national championship and 56 years since they won a championship outright. Their status at the top of college football with the likes of Ohio State University, the University of Alabama, the University of Notre Dame, Oklahoma University, and the University of Southern California as blue bloods of the sport had previously been waning.

That is until Michigan’s prodigal son restored the program to its former glory. Over the course of the last three years, Harbaugh has brought Michigan back to the summit of the college football mountain while going through two fellow blue-blood programs just this past season. The Wolverines beat the Buckeyes for the third straight time and then took down Nick Saban and the mighty dynasty of the Alabama Crimson Tide, a team that broke Georgia’s 29-game winning streak. All of this was done before capping off their campaign against one of the nation’s top offenses and an undefeated Washington.

Michigan returned to the summit. They climbed the college football mountain, the same mountain that legendary Wolverines’ head coach Lloyd Carr used as a metaphor for the 1997 team in pursuit of their eventual national championship win. 

Many will argue, that this has likely proven to be the best team in the history of Michigan Football. 

They became just that through the course of beating both Alabama and Ohio State, among others, totaling four top 10-ranked wins in their final six games and an additional top 20-ranked win. All of it was done after news of the investigation broke, three wins of which came without Harbaugh at the helm while he served a suspension from the Big Ten. A suspension, mind you, that seemed to lack due process and came about by pressure from fellow members of the conference on the Big Ten Commissioner, Tony Pettiti.

It proved, in the most emphatic fashion, that illegal sign stealing had little to zero impact on their success, and that nothing can be taken away from this program.

It’s a grand accomplishment when you win a national championship. It’s a generational marker when you do so undefeated. The 2023 Michigan Wolverines football team created just that with their win on Monday night – a generational marker.

That said, doing so was quite bleak in week eight of the college football season. Right before a matchup with Michigan’s in-state rival, the Michigan State University Spartans, news of the impending investigation into the Wolverines’ football team for illegal sign stealing emerged.

According to the AP, the allegation was for violating rules against in-person scouting of opponents in advance of a game and using electronics (in this case cell phone cameras) to do so.

Harbaugh has vehemently denied any knowledge of Stalion’s wrongdoings and has even claimed innocence for him and the rest of the team. Still, according to ESPN, Pettiti felt that the suspension was necessary.

“This is not a sanction of Coach Harbaugh. It is a sanction against the University that, under the extraordinary circumstance presented by this offensive conduct, best fits the violation.”

While the argument as to whether or not Michigan broke rules (and how) is a valid one, it seems almost blasphemous to suggest that the sign-stealing strategy offered a significant competitive advantage over its opponents. According to well-known college football reporter Brett McMurphy with Action Network, an unknown Alabama executive spoke words of support towards the team that just defeated his school,

“Everyone — and I mean everyone — is stealing signs. Michigan was not the only school doing this.”

After all, the NCAA is yet to release information stating that anyone in the program other than Stalions knew about his scheme.

In a CFP press conference following Michigan’s victory over Alabama in the Rose Bowl, quarterback JJ McCarthy made it clear that Michigan was forced to “level the playing field” because of Ohio State’s own sign stealing prior to the 2021 season. It would seem that there is a blatant level of hypocrisy at play here, especially when considering Day’s potential involvement in leaking evidence to the NCAA about Stalions and the university. 

So for all the rival fans who traffic in misinformation and fairy dust, this one has to hurt. The gloating on social media about any sort of NCAA “death penalty” punishment (which seems highly unlikely to this point) should not take any shine off this championship for the Michigan faithful. In a world where respect for the NCAA is lower than the modern-day approval ratings of former U.S. President Andrew Johnson, vacating this title would mean little.

After all, the likelihood that the NCAA sticks around as a governing body is getting slimmer by the day. Even then, their actions (or lack thereof) in years past regarding programs like the Kansas men’s basketball team leave them less than respectable.

Is this some major violation of the integrity of the sport? Did Michigan rob opposing teams of championships? The general feeling from people who know a lot about football is a resounding “no”. 

Furthermore, NCAA President Charlie Baker made it clear to reporters at the NCAA’s annual convention that Michigan’s season shouldn’t be diminished because of the controversy. 

“At the end of the day, no one believes at this point that Michigan didn’t win the national title fair and square.”

Baker also reiterated, however, that he does not regret his “unusual” mid-season decision to inform both the Big Ten and Michigan of the NCAA’s investigation into the sign-stealing allegations.

“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.”

Despite Michigan’s dominance and Harbaugh’s consistent denial of his involvement in the sign stealing scandal, detractors were grasping at straws less than 24 hours after the championship. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough made the claim that “what they (Michigan) did was pretty deplorable, and then they got caught lying about it.” 

Not only is Scarborough’s insinuation that Michigan’s alleged wrongdoings are somehow worse than what is already commonplace in the NCAA laughable–and they aren’t–the real kicker is his assertion that Harbaugh has been knowingly lying about it the whole time. 

However, perhaps the most interesting element of Scarborough’s delusion is his inability to acknowledge his own bias as a University of Alabama alum. Objectivity is an illusion, especially when we consider how it impacts our interests, which goes beyond just sports. 

Something that did come as a surprise to many was OutKick founder Clay Travis openly acknowledging the falseness of his previous claim that Harbaugh is “the most overrated coach in college football history”. Travis walked back his take on the most recent episode of his podcast, saying “I didn’t see this pivot coming in year seven, year eight or year nine; there isn’t really a precedent for this.”

As hard as it can be to say about him, Travis is right. There is no precedent for what Michigan accomplished at NRG Stadium on Jan. 8 by going 15-0 through a roster developed without “high-level” recruiting talent. Instead, the Wolverines set a new precedent for what a team of their caliber, that lacks several superstars, is capable of. Conversely, they also have a chance to set the precedent for what potential repercussions for the alleged NCAA infractions may look like. 

What is the point of all of this? Two things: first, the sign-stealing scandal mattered nothing to the end result. Michigan proved they were undoubtedly the best college football team in the nation by dominating Washington at the line of scrimmage–something they accomplished against all of their opponents this season. Second, Michigan cemented its legacy as one of the greatest individual teams in college football history. Whereas many previous national champions boast offensive units with bonafide top-10 talent, Michigan bludgeoned their competition without any of that. 

The result of Michigan’s win cannot be attributed to any one player or specific moment in the game. Instead, we will remember this team as a group of players who overcame everything put in front of them to restore Michigan back to its former glory at the college football mountaintop.

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About the Contributors
Ayron Rutan
Ayron Rutan, Multimedia Editor
Ayron Rutan is the Lanthorn's Multimedia Editor for the 2023-2024 school year. He previously worked as a columnist and Arts & Entertainment staff writer. In addition to his work with the Lanthorn, he also produces freelance content for, an online music publication. Ayron is a Junior at GVSU pursuing a B.A. in Journalism, Broadcasting, and Digital Media. In his free time, he enjoys playing guitar and drums, going to concerts, and spending time with friends and his dog Maizie. Ayron will be pursuing a career in content management and music journalism after his time at GVSU. Graduating Spring 2025 Major: Journalism, Broadcasting, and Digital Media
Dylan Hoffius
Dylan Hoffius, Arts and Entertainment Editor
Dylan Hoffius is the Lanthorn's Arts & Entertainment Editor for the Winter 2024 semester. He previously worked as an Arts & Entertainment staff writer during the Fall 2023 semester. Dylan is a senior at Grand Valley State University, majoring in journalism, broadcast, and digital media, with aspirations to critique film and write for a sports and pop-culture outlet after graduation. He loves to watch movies at the theater, play disc golf and cheer for Michigan-based sports teams, specifically the Lions and Pistons. Follow his Letterboxd account for unbiased movie reviews and rankings. Graduating Winter 2024 Major: Journalism, Broadcast, and Digital Media
Nelson Hubbell
Nelson Hubbell, Sports Editor
Nelson Hubbell is the Sports Editor for the Lanthorn for the 2023-2024 school year. A senior at Grand Valley State University, before his time with the Lanthorn, he was a staff writer for The Collegiate Live, Grand Rapids Community College's student publication where he was a student for two years. He worked for a restaurant for four and a half years in Holland, Mich. called Hops at 84 East, a place he holds close to his heart. During his time there he was a manager for roughly two years. He loves camping, hiking and being outside in general. He is super passionate about football, basketball, baseball and hockey and loves all things sports and competition. Nelson will be pursuing a career in sportscasting as a play-by-play broadcaster and or as an analyst after his time at GVSU. Graduating Winter 2024 Major: Multimedia Journalism