The Big Ten Conference Commissioner Tony Petitti is about to become the most unpopular person in college football, and it isn’t even his fault. Petitti, who took over from Kevin Warren in May of this year, has been presented with his first major decision as commissioner, and no matter what he decides to do or not do, he is going to make a fanbase or multiple fanbases upset.
At this point, the evidence that the Michigan football program had an extensive sign-stealing operation is overwhelming. It is also clear through video confirmation that multiple high-level coaches within the program knew of Connor Stalions and exactly what he was in charge of doing and creating for the coaching staff. Late on Friday, Michigan announced that Stalions, who was on leave without pay while they were investigating the matter, officially resigned from his position with the University.
This seemed like the first logical move that needed to be made following Petitti’s meeting with Michigan President Santa Ono. Michigan’s willingness to compromise with Petitti and the other Big Ten schools’ coaches and Athletic Directors, who seems irritated by what Michigan has done when it comes to creating an unfair advantage, will be paramount for Petitti when it comes to moving forward and handing down additional discipline.
Earlier this week during his press conference with the media, Purdue head coach Ryan Walters, who was preparing to face Michigan this week, made the following statement about what changes they have had to make as a program due to Michigan’s unsportsmanlike actions.
"‘It’s unfortunate. What’s crazy is they weren’t allegations. It happened. There’s video evidence. There’s ticket purchases and sales that you can track back. We know for a fact that they were at a number of our games, so we’ve had to teach our guys a new language in terms of some signals….We will operate differently offensively. You might see us in a huddle for the first time this season. It is what it is. We’re excited to go play.”"
Walters wasn’t the only coach in the Big Ten to speak out. Nebraska’s Matt Rhule also had an opinion on the matter that he wanted to share. Although Rhule wasn’t as aggressive as Walters was, he did point out the injustice of cheating.
"“I think a lot of people’s lives, livelihoods, jobs, their seasons, players, players’ health, all kinds of things, have been impacted by this.”"
Following Petitti’s meeting with the Big Ten coaches on Wednesday, he met with the Big Ten Athletic Directors on Thursday. Although I have not been able to confirm it, there has been a lot of buzz coming out of that meeting that several ADs became passionate about the hypocrisy of the Big Ten when it comes to how they have handled situations in the past involving programs not named Michigan.
No matter what decision Petitti makes, he is in a no-win situation. If he does nothing, he will be looked at as a weak man with no backbone by most of the Big Ten fans of the other 13 schools. Not to mention that there are four new west coast schools who are watching this situation very closely as well.
If he comes out and announces that Jim Harbaugh will have a two-game suspension, which is what the rumor is at the writing of this article, then again, many within the conference will feel like the punishment doesn’t match the crime committed. If Petitti suspends Harbaugh for the remainder of the season and suspends Michigan from post season play, then Petitti will become the second most hated man in Ann Arbor after Ryan Day.
I don’t envy Petitti at this time. I imagine he has had several sleepless nights while gathering information before making what might be the most important decision he will make during the tenure of his entire commissionership. It’s a real shame that Harbaugh and the Michigan football program have placed Petitti in this situation. Hopefully, for him, no matter what decision he makes, when this is all done, he can look back at the decision he made and knows that he did the right thing for the right reasons.