May 28, 2024

The stakes for Michigan are obvious: Win against Ohio State or risk being called a huge liar.

The football team at Michigan has won two conference titles, 23 straight Big Ten titles, and an overwhelming amount of dominance over Ohio State to the point where some Buckeyes fans have questioned whether Ryan Day’s squad is tough enough to play at the highest level of the sport.

All of this will appear to be a huge scam, though, if the Wolverines fall short against Ohio State on Saturday.

That’s the raw, possibly unfair reality of the stakes this year. It transcends the rivalry in some respects. It matters more than who will play in the Big Ten championship game the following week. It’s also far more urgent than even winning a national championship, considering the recent events at Michigan.

Last week, the Wolverines became the team with the most victories in college football history—1,000 to be exact. This win is more needed than any other in their history.

Exaggeration? Not at all. The ramifications of losing to Ohio State this time are evident, regardless of your opinion regarding the sign-stealing scandal that has rocked the programme for the past month and will prevent head coach Jim Harbaugh from entering Michigan Stadium for the final game of his three-game suspension.

Buckeye Nation will be served up the conclusion that Michigan flipped this rivalry by cheating like a carved turkey in front of an offensive line if this game doesn’t end in victory on this day and under these conditions.

And Michigan will always be left behind.

The truth is that it’s difficult to gauge the exact advantage the Wolverines acquired from the now-famous recruiting analyst Connor Stalions, who reportedly spent most of his time travelling the nation filming the sidelines of Michigan’s opponents and selling used vacuums online.

Following the revelation of Stalions’ activities, there has been a great deal of litigation in the media and among coaches regarding the significance of breaking the NCAA’s ban on in-person scouting and whether it is a major infraction or a minor infraction.

Every programme attempts or steals signs to some extent, so this is an interesting topic to discuss. Moreover, the NCAA has talked about repealing the rule in the past because it was implemented primarily as a cost-cutting measure and might not really provide a competitive advantage. The reason why it’s acceptable for coaching staffs to share information with one another—information that would have been obtained in part through in-person scouting—but not for Stalions fans to purchase game tickets like any other fan has even been the subject of an extremely detailed, inside baseball-like discussion.

All of these are legitimate topics for scholarly discussion. All of this would be moot if the NCAA just adopted modern practises and permitted helmet radio communication between players and sidelines, just like the NFL does. The necessity of deciphering complex signals would vanish immediately since you wouldn’t need them to convey plays.

Opinion: The Michigan football programme has been exposed as being either incredibly careless or filthy.

But none of that matters much in terms of how much the Stalions’ work is thought to have contributed to Michigan’s transformation from a team that appeared to be prepared to fire Harbaugh a few years ago to Ohio State’s new powerhouse.

Which scenario is more likely to have occurred: A $55,000-per-year employee who overreached, or a plethora of NFL draught picks that made Michigan very good very quickly? Naturally, the former is true, but ignoring the tiny margins that determine football games would also be naive. Why would Stallion take such extreme measures to carry out his work if there was no purpose to it?

If Stalions writes a book, accepts a Netflix documentary, or does anything else that would allow us to learn more about his values, it would be interesting to know what he believed to be those values.

However, Stalions was no longer required to cooperate with the ongoing NCAA investigation the moment Michigan fired him, so for the time being, we’re unlikely to find out much about his mentality. There would be no reason for him to do so at this point. He will receive a severe NCAA penalty for his obstruction, but his college football career is already over. He’ll only open up if he feels like it.

That leaves the rest of us to try and tie up a thousand loose ends, like finding out if anyone else at Michigan was aware of what was happening. At the very least, Michigan seems to have made the mistake of not thoroughly screening Stalions or posing the fundamental queries regarding how he became so adept at reading opponents’ signals.

And he was apparently so good that almost every other Big Ten program—Ohio State in particular—thought something strange was going on.

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