ANN ARBOR — The NCAA presented the University of Michigan with new evidence this week, including that a Michigan booster may have at least partially funded Connor Stalions’ advanced scouting operation and an assistant coach allegedly participated in the destruction of evidence on a computer after the scandal broke, industry sources tell Yahoo Sports.
The revelations altered Michigan’s and Jim Harbaugh’s legal approach.
Both the school and Harbaugh dropped an attempt to secure a temporary restraining order against a three-game Big Ten suspension. A hearing had been scheduled Friday morning in Washtenaw County (Michigan) Circuit Court.
The school also announced that linebackers coach Chris Partridge had been “relieved of his duties as a member of the Michigan Football staff.”
Multiple sources say that Partridge is not alleged at this time of knowing about the advanced scouting by Stalions, but acted after the fact to cover up evidence. Sources tell Yahoo Sports that a booster — named in the NCAA report as “Uncle T” — helped fund the alleged scheme, giving Stalions thousands of dollars for expenses.
The developments comes from a nearly month-long scandal involving Stalions. Officially a “recruiting analyst,” he is alleged by the NCAA of sending friends to the games of future Michigan opponents in an effort to film the sideline play signals. While stealing signs is not prohibited by the NCAA, and is a common practice via game film, television footage or during a game, advanced scouting is prohibited.
Harbaugh has staunchly maintained that he has no knowledge of how Stalions was able to break down opponents’ signals — he almost certainly knew Stalions was stealing signs, but presumably assumed it was via standard practices.
Stalions resigned from the program earlier this month.
Last Friday, Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti suspended Harbaugh for the rest of the regular season (or three games) under the league’s “sportsmanship policy” rather than let a lengthy NCAA infractions process play out.
The NCAA has been investigating Michigan since Oct. 18. Stalions resigned from the program after refusing to meet with investigators.
According to sources, the NCAA has yet to find any evidence tying Harbaugh to the scheme. However, the investigation is ongoing and remains in its early phases. It is possible the NCAA could uncover new information, including the knowledge of other staffers or assistant coaches on the Wolverines’ staff.
No. 2 Ohio State visits No. 3 Michigan on Nov. 25 with the Big Ten East and a potential College Football Playoff bid on the line. Both teams are 10-0 and the game will almost certainly produce the highest television rating of the regular season.
Michigan’s dream season was rocked with the allegations of Stalions’ actions.
Petitti declared it “an organized, extensive, years-long in-person advance scouting scheme that was impermissible,” he wrote in a letter announcing the original suspension. He explained he felt the need to immediately punish the program — by suspending Harbaugh — because “such misconduct inherently compromises the integrity of competition.”
Michigan responded by legally challenging the ruling, noting other schools acquire stolen signs from coaching staffs that already played opponents and publicly decrying the lack of due process in the decision.
“All of the Head Coaches in the Big Ten (some who have been accused of actively participating in the trading of signals of opponents) and my Big Ten AD colleagues can rejoice today that someone was ‘held accountable,’ but they should be worried about the new standard of judgment (without complete investigation) that has been unleashed in this conference,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manual said in a statement.
By ROSS DELLENGER – DAN WETZEL/Yahoo! Sports