The first shoe has officially fallen in the Michigan football cheating scandal. On Sunday, the Michigan Athletic Department officially rescinded its contract offer to Jim Harbaugh, who agreed to a five-year, $36.7 million deal back in 2022. The new offer would have made Harbaugh the highest-paid head coach in the Big Ten, including more than what the Ohio State football program is paying Ryan Day, but now that the football program is in the midst of an NCAA investigation, keeping that contract offer on the table wasn’t a look that Athletic Director Warde Manuel was comfortable with.
The next shoe that could drop would be a second self-imposed suspension for Harbaugh by the Michigan Athletic Department. The NCAA investigation into Michigan’s COVID-restricted recruiting violations led to Michigan self-imposing a three-game suspension for Harbaugh at the beginning of the season. Those first three games were against non-conference opponents East Carolina, UNLV, and Bowling Green.
The prevailing thought was that the NCAA was going to request at least a four-game suspicion for Harbaugh. Michigan choosing to self-impose a three-game suspicion could be looked at as a slight slap in the face to the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions. Some believe that this has led to the NCAA placing a magnifying glass on the Wolverine program moving forward and is one of the reasons why they are getting looked at for additional rule infractions at this time.
The NCAA moves incredibly slow, and even though there appears to be more urgency, I just don’t expect the NCAA to hand out sanctions, restrictions, or punishment during the season. Don’t forget, college football is a major business, and removing one of the better teams with one of the largest fan bases from the possibility of a postseason run isn’t good business for the NCAA, the Big Ten, and the College Football Playoffs.
However, that doesn’t mean that Michigan won’t try to plug the hole in the dam by removing Harbaugh from the sideline for the remainder of the season. This seems like the most likely possibility. If this is going to happen, however, that move will be made this week. If Harbaugh remains on the sideline for this week’s game, then it is safe to say that Manuel and the Athletic Department are willing to ride this investigation out to the end, which could take years.
The only thing that could force the hand of the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference to move more quickly to dolling out punishment would be pressure from the 13 other Big Ten institutions. It is obvious, given the comments from some of the other Big Ten head football coaches not named Ryan Day, that other schools are just as upset about this situation as the Ohio State football team is.
Imagine for a moment if Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti were to receive a conference call from 13 angry athletic directors stating that they have all agreed not to play Michigan in football until Harbaugh and the Wolverines are punished. That would force the hand of Petitti to make a swift and harsh move against the Michigan program.
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Until outside forces become more persuasive, I don’t foresee Petitti stepping in anytime soon. There is just too much riding on Michigan and the Ohio State football team both being undefeated at the end of the season. The FOX network doesn’t want the last game in November to have a lame-duck team going 12-0 and possibly eliminating the Big Ten from the CFP.
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