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Report: Michigan staffer at center of sign-stealing investigation bought tickets to games at 11 Big Ten schools

The suspended staff member at the center of the Michigan football sign-stealing scandal reportedly bought tickets to more than 30 games at 11 different Big Ten schools over the past three seasons.

ESPN is reporting that Connor Stalions would purchase tickets to games of Michigan’s opponents in his own name and then forward the tickets to “at least three different people in different areas of the country.” In one instance, per ESPN, the person occupying the seat purchased by Stalions “held his smart phone up and appeared to film the home team’s sideline the entire game.”

Before the NCAA’s sign-stealing investigation into Michigan surfaced last week, Stalions had purchased tickets for Saturday’s Penn State at Ohio State game. Per the ESPN report, Stalions had seats “on both sides of the stadium across from each bench.”

Michigan, the No. 2 team in the country, is scheduled to play both Penn State and Ohio State next month. The tickets reportedly went unused after Yahoo Sports broke the story of the NCAA’s investigation into illegal scouting last week. Yahoo Sports also reported that Michigan was being investigated for scouting possible College Football Playoff opponents.

From ESPN:

None of the tickets that the 11 schools told ESPN about involved Michigan as an opponent, per sources. The games involved either one or both of the teams that the Wolverines were playing later that year, according to sources.

Stalions, a graduate of the Naval Academy, was a volunteer at Michigan from 2015 to 2022 before being hired as a full-time analyst in May 2022, according to his LinkedIn profile. A Big Ten coach told Yahoo Sports’ Ross Dellenger that Stalions “spearheads” Michigan’s sign-stealing operation. He was suspended with pay last week.

In his LinkedIn bio, Stalions described himself as being adept at “identifying the opponent's most likely course of action and most dangerous course of action” and “identifying and exploiting critical vulnerabilities and centers of gravity in the opponent scouting process.”

More details have emerged in a report about Michigan's alleged sign-stealing scheme. (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
More details have emerged in a report about Michigan's alleged sign-stealing scheme. (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Stealing an opponent’s signals during a game is common in college football and not against NCAA rules. The NCAA’s investigation is centered on in-person scouting of future opponents, which has been prohibited since 1994. Using recording or video devices would violate another NCAA bylaw. According to ESPN, the NCAA is “expected to receive video evidence this week of illegal technology used in scouting tied to tickets purchased by Stalions.”

Stalions has been well-known throughout the Big Ten, according to Yahoo Sports’ Ross Dellenger. A source from a Big Ten school described Michigan’s sign-stealing operation to Dellenger as an “elaborate scheme” that used both video footage and in-person recordings.

“We were told to be careful because they had a guy who could pick plays,” a Big Ten head coach told Dellenger. “It was too late in the week to change our signals, but another staff did tell us about [Stalions].”

According to the ESPN story, Stalions would purchase tickets using his own credit card through retailers like StubHub or SeatGeek with the seats located “somewhere around the 45-yard line and raised up enough for a clear view of the opposite sideline.”

From ESPN:

One source told ESPN Stalions bought tickets to five different games at that school over the past three years. Another said it was four games over the past two years. A third source said it was nine games over the last three years. Some of the purchases were single tickets, others were for multiple people and sometimes seats were bought on both sides of the stadium near midfield.

In a statement released last week, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh denied having any knowledge of the alleged scheme.

“I do not have any knowledge or information regarding the University of Michigan football program illegally stealing signs, nor have I directed any staff member or others to participate in an off-campus scouting assignment,” Harbaugh’s statement said. “I have no awareness of anyone on our staff having done that or having directed that action. No matter what program or organization I have led throughout my career, my instructions and awareness of how we scout opponents have always been firmly within the rules.”

Michigan was already facing a separate NCAA investigation regarding a series of violations that included Harbaugh meeting with recruits during the COVID dead period, among other Level II violations.

Michigan, now 8-0 after beating Michigan State 49-0 over the weekend, has a bye this week before rounding out the regular season with games against Purdue, No. 10 Penn State, Maryland and No. 3 Ohio State.

The Wolverines are coming off back-to-back Big Ten titles and College Football Playoff appearances.