Michigan’s Sign-Stealing Scandal Is Just Another Symptom of the NCAA’s Failure to Adapt

Omar Zahran
6 min readNov 18, 2023

Between NIL, the transfer portal, and sign stealing, the NCAA is showing its ineptitude to govern big time college football more by the day

The biggest story in college football this year should be about the product on the field. But it isn’t. This season we have seen fascinating play from Oregon, Florida State, Texas, Ohio State, and Michigan. But it is the last team on that list, Michigan, that has dominated the headlines for reasons outside of the exploits of its players. The university is currently embroiled in a sign stealing scandal that has led to the suspension of coach Jim Harbaugh from the team’s remaining regular season schedule. The accusations fall back to a former staffer, Connor Stalions, who bought tickets to opposing teams’ games to know what signals the sideline used to be able to give Michigan an edge when they played said teams.

Many people have written articles and spoken words on podcasts about this situation from a variety of angles. Some have cited Michigan’s brazen tactics, while others have pointed out that sign stealing is industry practice. But the more important factor in all of this, is why sign stealing is used in advanced scouting of opponents to begin with. The reason is that the NCAA doesn’t allow for sideline to helmet communication devices like we see in the NFL. It is yet another example of the NCAA being behind the curve of the sports trends and ultimately looking foolish in the process.

Reading the Room

Paying athletes in college football has been a way of life for decades. One of my favorite ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries is “Pony Excess”, which chronicles the violations of the 1980s SMU football program that would pay players to join their team over the competition. Big time college football has long surpassed the student athlete dream that the NCAA has sold us for years. These schools frequently fill up stadiums close to and sometimes upwards of 100,000 fans every Saturday. Schools like Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, and LSU often fill their massive stadiums to capacity and then