In a meeting Thursday with commissioner Tony Petitti, Big Ten athletic directors continued to encourage action from the league over Michigan’s sign-stealing scandal and gave their support for any decision that is made, sources tell Yahoo Sports.
For the second time in a week, school administrators met with Petitti over the NCAA’s investigation into what has become an elaborate scandal from at least one Michigan staff member to scout future opponents in-person in an effort to learn their play-call signals.
Last week, athletic directors held a similar meeting with the commissioner. A group of Big Ten presidents also met with Petitti last week over the issue after a scheduled meeting of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors. Michigan president Santa Ono was originally on the call but then logged off so the others could discuss the situation, sources told Yahoo Sports.
Thursday evening’s AD call came a day after Big Ten head football coaches passionately urged Petitti to take action during a meeting, according to an ESPN report.
In just his eighth month on the job, Petitti is facing mounting internal pressures from his member coaches, athletic directors and even presidents to levy penalties against the Wolverines, who are 8-0 and ranked No. 3 in the College Football Playoff.
However, a decision from the league is uncertain, though options have been discussed. On their calls over the last week in fact, high-level school administrators and Petitti have pored over a wide range of possibilities. There was talk, for instance, of any penalty not impacting players directly. A suspension of head coach Jim Harbaugh may be the most likely and “cleanest” penalty if one were handed down, one source said.
Such a penalty from a conference is somewhat unprecedented and, if too severe, could eventually trigger legal action from the program, legal experts tell Yahoo Sports. Any Big Ten penalty is rooted in the conference’s sportsmanship policy, which allows for the commissioner to hand down disciplinary measures for violating the “integrity of competition” in the “competitive arena,” the policy says.
The policy was at the center of discussions last week between school leaders and Petitti. According to the policy, the commissioner can take disciplinary action that is considered “standard” or “major.”
Standard action includes a fine not exceeding $10,000 and a suspension of no more than two contests. Major action is anything exceeding those penalties and is subject to approval from the Big Ten executive board of presidents.
As more evidence of the sign-stealing scheme emerges, Big Ten school administrators and coaches have further urged action from their commissioner. But it’s a difficult subject.
In normal protocol, leagues rely on the NCAA for enforcement action. The association is three weeks into its investigation of Michigan.
While NCAA probes can last months if not years, the organization’s foray into the Wolverines is on a more “accelerated” path, Petitti has told school leaders.