In an interesting turn of events, NCAA president Charlie Baker said the Michigan Wolverines won the National Championship “fair and square” and defended his decision to inform the school and the Big Ten during the season that the NCAA was investigating disallowed ways to steal signs from other teams.
Before the Wolverines defeated the Washington Huskies, 34-13, in the National Championship on Monday, Baker made a few unprecedented moves during his eighth month as the NCAA president. In October, he made the unique choice to disclose the preliminary results of an ongoing NCAA investigation to both Michigan and the Big Ten Conference. This information set off a series of actions: the resignation of Connor Stalions, a three-game suspension for head coach Jim Harbaugh imposed by Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti, and the firing of Chris Patridge for allegedly obstructing the investigation.
Baker acknowledged his decision was “unusual,” but he also believes the result legitimized Michigan’s run in the College Football Playoff.
“I don’t regret doing it because sitting on that information, given the comprehensiveness of it, I think we would have put everyone, including Michigan, in an awful place,” Baker said at the NCAA convention. “As it was, it was out in the public domain, and people either made adjustments or didn’t. At the end of the day, no one believes at this point that Michigan didn’t win the national title fair and square.”
Baker believed the Wolverines and the Big Ten should have the opportunity to respond immediately during the season in order to maintain the integrity of the competition, instead of waiting for the conclusion of a lengthy investigation.
“Part of the reason I thought it important to talk to the Big Ten and Michigan about this was it might affect the outcome of games,” Baker said. “I don’t believe at the end of the season that it did.”
The NCAA’s investigation into sign-stealing, led by Stalions, was initially prompted by a tip from an independent third party. This source presented comprehensive evidence to the NCAA at their headquarters in Indianapolis, compelling Baker to act swiftly.
“We had to make a decision at that point,” Baker said. “Because it was the kind of thing that had consequences for the outcome of games, we made an unusual decision to simultaneously call the Big Ten and Michigan and tell them about this, and we got on a whole bunch of calls and Zooms and shared the first pieces of what we’ve been given.”
Michigan’s performance post-investigation was remarkable, going 8-0 and securing victories over top teams such as Penn State, Ohio State, and all the way through the National Championship. Despite the controversy, Michigan players and staff, including Athletic Director Warde Manuel, firmly rejected any notion their title was tainted, asserting their rightful claim as champions.
“We’re innocent, and we stood strong and tall because we knew we were innocent — I’d like to point that out,” Harbaugh said following the win over Washington. “These guys are innocent. To overcome that, it wasn’t that hard because we knew we were innocent.”
Baker anticipates the sign-stealing investigation will accelerate now that the football season has ended, allowing for more engagement with the coaches.
“I’m hoping that now that the season’s over, things will move a little more quickly,” Baker said. “I get the fact that people have a lot on their plates.”