Michigan football stays undefeated after Big Ten suspends coach Jim Harbaugh from sidelines over sign-stealing violations

University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh was suspended for the three remaining games of the 2023 regular season after the Big Ten Conference announced on Friday the Wolverines football program was found to have conducted “an impermissible, in-person scouting operation over multiple years,” thus violating the Big Ten sportsmanship policy.

As part of the sanctions, Harbaugh’s suspension over alleged sign-stealing involving the program included Saturday’s game against Penn State.

Without Harbaugh, No. 3-ranked Michigan still beat No. 10 Penn State 24-15 to improve to 10-0 on the season. Offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore filled in for Harbaugh and offered his support after the game.

“I want to thank coach Harbaugh,” Moore told the Fox broadcast with tears streaming down his face. “This is for you. For this University, the president, our (Athletic Director). We got the best players, best University, best alumni in the country. Love you guys!”

The conference said in an email on Friday addressed to Michigan’s athletic director, Warde Manuel, it believed the university violated the Big Ten’s sportsmanship policy “because a university football staff member engaged in an organized, extensive, years-long in-person advance scouting scheme that was impermissible.”

Harbaugh will be allowed to attend practices and other football team activities, but cannot be in the stadium on game days, according to the conference’s statement.

The Big Ten Conference said Jim Harbaugh's suspension from coaching on game days was "not a sanction" of the coach. - G Fiume/Getty Images
The Big Ten Conference said Jim Harbaugh's suspension from coaching on game days was "not a sanction" of the coach. - G Fiume/Getty Images

“Sign-stealing,” the practice of gathering information on the signs a team uses to call offensive and defensive plays, is technically not prohibited under NCAA rules unless electronic communication is intercepted in-game. However, in-person scouting is explicitly outlawed by the rule book.

“We impose this disciplinary action even though the conference has not yet received any information indicating that Head Football Coach Harbaugh was aware of the impermissible nature of the sign-stealing scheme,” the conference’s email stated, clarifying the sanction was against the university.

“This is not a sanction of Coach Harbaugh,” it read.

The conference said it “recognizes that additional disciplinary actions may be necessary or appropriate if it receives additional information concerning the scope and knowledge of, or participation in, the impermissible scheme.”

After the Big Ten announced it was investigating, Harbaugh denied the program had illegally stolen signals, adding he and his coaching staff would fully cooperate with the investigation into the matter.

“I do not condone or tolerate anyone doing anything illegal or against the NCAA rules,” Harbaugh said. “No matter what program or organization that I have led throughout my career, my instructions and awareness of how we scout opponents have always been firmly within the rules.”

The University of Michigan filed an emergency motion Friday night asking a Washtenaw County Michigan judge to grant a temporary restraining order against the Big Ten after their decision to ban Harbaugh, according to the court’s website.

The emergency motion lists the Big Ten Conference and Commissioner Tony Petitti as defendants. CNN has not been able to obtain a copy of the motion.

It was not immediately clear when the court would rule on the temporary restraining order request, or whether the motion would have any effect on the ban.

The university said it was “dismayed” at Petitti’s “rush to judgment.”

“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,” the school said.

“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.”

Manuel, Michigan’s athletic director, said the university is not happy “to hear of the allegations and preliminary evidence” but slammed the conference’s decision to suspend Harbaugh before conducting a thorough investigation.

“Yesterday, under the guise of the NCAA Rule regarding Head Coach Responsibility the Big Ten decided to penalize Coach Harbaugh without knowing all the facts, and I find that completely unethical, insulting to a well-established process within the NCAA, and an assault on the rights of everyone (especially in the Big Ten) to be judged by a fair and complete investigation,” Manuel said in a statement.

“You may have removed him from our sidelines today, but Jim Harbaugh is our head football coach.  We look forward to defending Jim’s right to coach our football team at the hearing on Friday.”

In a statement obtained by CNN after the filing, the Big Ten Conference said it was “disappointed that the University of Michigan decided to seek a temporary restraining order.”

CNN has reached out to Harbaugh’s attorney for comment.

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