The Big Ten Sportsmanship Policy spells out a wide range of potential penalties aside from a suspension of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, according to documents obtained by CBS Sports, as the sign-stealing scandal remains ongoing.
The penalties range from a reprimand to probation to a possible TV ban. Other potential penalties include withholding TV and bowl game revenue from the university. As part of those penalties laid out in Rule 19.5 of the sportsmanship policy, a "staff member" can be suspended.
Michigan on Mondayas well as a formal notice of potential disciplinary action against the program, sources told CBS Sports. The school has been given until Wednesday to respond. The NCAA has already shared some of its findings with the league.
Sources close to Harbaugh and the ongoing situation speculated to CBS Sports that a court action would be filed almost immediately -- "maybe 10 [minutes after punishment is handed down]" -- to keep the Michigan coach on the sidelines if the Big Ten chose to suspend him.
That action would most likely be an injunction or temporary restraining order allowing Harbaugh to continue coaching. There are ongoing dual investigations by the NCAA and Big Ten regarding former analyst Connor Stalions and his culpability in improperly scouting opponents.
Sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the ongoing case.
For Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti, the Michigan situation is extremely complicated. A suspension would potentially impact the Wolverines' chances both of winning the Big Ten and obtaining a berth in the College Football Playoff for a run at the national championship. It could also impact the bottom line regarding revenue brought into the conference.
That has to be weighed against outrage expressed over the sign-stealing scandal from Big Ten coaches and athletic directors, according to multiple reports.
Michigan president Santa Ono urged Petitti via email to wait for the end of the NCAA investigation and use "due process" before taking action, according to the Wall Street Journal and ESPN. The NCAA investigation is expected to last well into 2024.
As one Big Ten AD put it to CBS Sports: "Who's in charge?"
The documents obtained by CBS Sports regarding that sportsmanship policy state the Big Ten's Compliance and Reinstatement Committee may impose any one or a combination of penalties against university, staff or student.
- A reprimand warning against committing a violation again
- Probation for a specified period of time
- Suspension "for a period of time"
- Contact may be denied to "any prospective athlete"
- An offending university may be barred from scheduling contests with other Big Ten schools
- A school may be barred from having games televised under "a conference television agreement"
- A school could be denied "all or some" conference income from TV or bowl revenue
Those penalties were revised in 2019. It is not clear from the documents how the Compliance and Reinstatement Committee is comprised. There is an appeals process.
The language in the documents is not clear on Petitti's ability to take immediate action in the current Michigan situation. That committee may determine the NCAA is a "more appropriate or effective body to investigate" the case. It could impose additional penalties after the fact.
However, the commissioner has the authority to take "interim action … to prevent harm to the interests of the conference."
That sportsmanship policy also allows Petitti to investigate if "offensive action has occurred." The investigation shall be completed "as expeditiously as possible."
"Standard Disciplinary Action" from the conference includes "admonishment, reprimands [and] fines that do not exceed $10,000" as well as a suspension of no more than two games. Decisions by the commissioner on "Standard Disciplinary Action" is "final and not subject to appeal."
"Major Disciplinary Action" must receive approval by the Joint Group Executive Committee. That committee can approve, deny or lessen a penalty. It cannot increase a proposed penalty. The committee is composed of faculty representatives and other administrators from league schools.
Stalions resigned last week after clearly becoming the central figure in an elaborate scheme to steal opponent signs. While it is permissible to steal signs through game video or on game day, it is against NCAA rules to scout future opponents and videotape their signs.
Whether Harbaugh was aware of the alleged cheating isif the NCAA presents a Notice of Allegations to Michigan. The NCAA's coach responsibility bylaw was changed this year to include language that a coach "shall be held responsible for their actions and the actions of all institutional staff members."
Michigan self-imposed a three-game suspension on Harbaugh to begin this season as part of a separate, ongoing case regarding Harbaugh allegedly misleading investigators in a case involving improper recruiting during the COVID_19 pandemic. The NCAA had earlier rejected a negotiated four-game suspension.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has discussed the situation with coaches and administrators within his conference; league ADs were presented with what was called an "overview" during a video conference last week.
The subject has become so ubiquitous that Sankey couldn't afford a wry smile when interviewed Saturday night at the LSU-Alabama game.
"We visited with poster board printers to see what the economic downfall would be," he said, referring to the material on which signs are posted.