“Michigan Manifesto”: University of Michigan Football Faces Allegations of Sign-Stealing

University of Michigan football head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback JJ Mcarthy. Photo by Joe Rondone - The Republic

University of Michigan football head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback JJ Mcarthy. Photo by Joe Rondone - The Republic

On Oct. 19, 2023, the Big Ten conference announced that the NCAA was opening an investigation into the University of Michigan Wolverines football program amid allegations of sign- stealing.

According to multiple Big Ten programs and eyewitness accounts, Michigan allegedly had staffers attend games of future opponents as well as possible college football playoff opponents to gather information on signs used to call plays on offense and defense.

“I do not have any knowledge or information regarding the University of Michigan football program illegally stealing signals, nor have I directed staff members or others to participate in an off-campus scouting assignment. I have no awareness of anyone on our staff having done that or having directed that action,” said Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh in a statement released on social media. “I want to make it clear that I, and my staff, will fully cooperate with the investigation into this matter.”

According to ESPN, Michigan staffer and former Navy Seal, Connor Stalions, was found to have bought over 30 tickets for eleven Big Ten games as well as four games that were outside of the Big Ten conference. Those teams were either in college football playoff contention or potential playoff opponents for Michigan.

According to the report, there are records of Stalions buying tickets to the 2021 and 2022 SEC championship games through secondary markets.

Stalions reportedly forwarded most of the tickets to different individuals around the country. The report also revealed that multiple schools in the Big Ten scanned video surveillance from within their stadiums of individuals sitting in the seats that Stalions purchased holding up cell phones pointed towards the home teams bench for the majority of the game. While not definitive evidence of sign stealing, it can be a reasonable assumption based on details uncovered during the investigation.

You can’t say Stalions isn’t a go-getter. According to ESPN sources, the 28-year-old was one of a handful of low-level staffers who concocted a long-term plan to run the Michigan football program.

The plan was contained in a document spanning between 500 and 600 pages and was managed daily. The report states that Stalions himself referred to it as the “Michigan Manifesto.”

While Stalions attended the U.S. Naval Academy, both of his parents attended the University of Michigan. “I’ve grown up my entire life with a vision to coach Michigan football,” said Stalions on an online blog in early 2022.

On Nov. 3, Connor Stalions officially resigned from the University of Michigan football program.

“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to work with the incredible student athletes, Coach Harbaugh and the other coaches that have been a part of the Michigan football family during my tenure,” said Stalions in a statement from the Athletic. “I do not want to be a distraction from what I hope to be a championship run for the team, and I will continue to cheer them on.”

Stalions lawyer Brad Beckworth also released a statement claiming Connor Stalion wanted to make it clear that “neither Coach Harbaugh, nor any other coach or staff member, told anyone to break any rules or were aware of improper conduct regarding the recent allegations of advanced scouting.”

According to ESPN, in that same week, multiple Big Ten coaches expressed their frustrations with the ongoing investigation of sign-stealing at Michigan in a video call with commissioner Tony Petitti.

The call, which took 90 minutes, included nearly an hour without Coach Jim Harbaugh, who hung up after the regularly scheduled Big Ten business to allow the conference’s coaches to speak freely on the investigation.

According to multiple sources familiar with the call, the majority of the Big Ten coaches encouraged Petitti to take action against Michigan.

“Collectively, the coaches want the Big Ten to act right now,” said sources close to the call. “What are we waiting on? We know what happened.”

The University of Michigan’s athletic director Ward Manuel, as well as president Santa Ono, made it publicly clear that they stand with Jim Harbaugh and the football program amid allegations. The University of Michigan athletics department reportedly sent a ten-page letter to the Big Ten stating that they are willing to take matters to court if the Big Ten were to attempt to punish Harbaugh due to an “insuffcient amount of evidence.”

“The conference should act cautiously when setting precedent given the reality that in-person scouting, collusion among opponents, and other questionable practices may well be far more prevalent than believed,” said the University of Michigan athletic department in the ten page letter sent to commissioner Tony Petitti.

The athletic department of Michigan reportedly sent documents to the Big Ten that show Rutgers, Ohio State and Purdue engaged in communication about the Wolverines before the Big Ten Championship game in 2022 between Michigan and Purdue.

According to sources, Michigan is encouraging the Big Ten to handle the matter accordingly.

Despite allegations against the Wolverine football program, players claim to still be laser-focused on the season, with the main goal of winning games. “We know there’s a lot of noise going on outside of the building, but we haven’t paid any attention to it,” said Michigan offensive lineman Zack Zinter. “If someone thinks we’re the villains, we’ll be the villains. We’re just focused on winning games.”