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Jim Harbaugh’s suspension, explained

Why Michigan’s coach is away from the team during their biggest game of the season against Ohio State

Purdue v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Michigan is set to host Ohio State in arguably the biggest college football game of the 2023 regular season. The Wolverines are undefeated and ranked third in the nation. The Buckeyes are undefeated as well and ranked second. The winning team books a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, and likely the College Football Playoff as well.

However, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh will not be with the team.

Harbaugh is serving the third and final game of a three-game suspension handed down by the Big Ten Conference earlier this month, as part of the ongoing allegations surrounding a sign-stealing operation run by a former analyst.

Back in October, allegations surfaced regarding former Michigan analyst Connor Stalions, who was hired by the team as a football analyst following seven years as a volunteer. According to multiple reports, Stalions was at the head of an operation aimed at deciphering various play-call signals for upcoming Michigan opponents. The investigation also includes allegations that Stalions was on the Central Michigan sidelines, dressed in CMU gear, while Central Michigan opened their season against Michigan State.

Sign-stealing is a rather grey area in the rules, as the NCAA does permit sign-stealing during games. However, there are two acts that are not allowed: In-person advance scouting to decipher signals, as well as using electronic devices to decipher signals.

The Big Ten released a statement last month confirming the NCAA’s investigation into Michigan.

“Late Wednesday afternoon, the Big Ten Conference and University of Michigan were notified by the NCAA that the NCAA was investigating allegations of sign stealing by the University of Michigan football program,” the statement read.

The Big Ten then launched their own investigation into the matter.

Near the end of that investigation, the conference handed down a three-game suspension for Harbaugh, on the day before the Wolverines were scheduled to play Penn State on the road. That Friday was the day on which Veterans Day was observed, meaning courts were closed, and as such the school — and coach Harbaugh — were put in a difficult spot in trying to have the suspension set aside on a temporary basis. Attorneys for the school and the coach filed a motion seeking a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that would allow Harbaugh to coach the team against Penn State, but the court instead set in a hearing for the following Friday.

Harbaugh remained away from the team as Michigan beat Penn State 24-15.

Ahead of the scheduled hearing the following Friday, Michigan announced that the school had reached an agreement with the Big Ten. “This morning, the University, Coach Harbaugh, and the Big Ten resolved their pending litigation. The Conference agreed to close its investigation, and the University and Coach Harbaugh agreed to accept the three-game suspension,” began a statement from Associate Athletic Director Kurt Svoboda. “Coach Harbaugh, with the University’s support, decided to accept this sanction to return the focus to our student-athletes and their performance on the field.”

The statement indicated that there was no evidence of any involvement on Harbaugh’s part in the sign-stealing operation.

“The Conference has confirmed that it is not aware of any information suggesting Coach Harbaugh’s involvement in the allegations. The University continues to cooperate fully with the NCAA’s investigation,” said the statement form the school.

Now, the NCAA’s own investigation remains ongoing, and as noted in the initial suspension handed down by the Big Ten, additional penalties could be forthcoming for both Michigan and coach Harbaugh, at the conclusion of that investigation.

But for now, the coach remains sidelined. Offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore, who has served as the team’s head coach in Harbaugh’s absence and delivered wins against Penn State and Maryland, will be in charge instead of Harbaugh.

As the Wolverines enter the biggest game of their season.