Who knew the Big Ten could be this wild?
We’re not talking about touchdowns and big hits on the field, either.
We’re talking about coaches and money and laws — and, by extension, adult behavior, morality and just how stupid people can be (which is almost limitless). And how badly some people want to kick the snot out of Ohio State.
Whew. Get the pom-poms!
First, we have fired Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald suing the university for $130 million for firing him before the season for what the school claims was just cause. Fitz claims that he knew nothing about the alleged player hazing that went on under his reign and that, at the very least, he’s owed the $80 million left on his now-voided contract.
Then we have former Michigan State coach Mel Tucker, who was fired Sept. 27 for cause — that cause being Tucker’s alleged sexual misconduct with Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor and sexual-assault-awareness speaker.
This one’s a doozy, involving — among other things — unwanted phone sex. The university’s statement explaining Tucker’s firing is a doozy, too. He was canned, the school said, for ‘‘behaviors which have brought public disrespect, contempt and ridicule upon the university . . . and moral turpitude.’’
This from a school that once employed Larry Nassar, a former U.S. women’s gymnastics doctor and perhaps the worst sexual-assault offender in U.S. sports history.
Tucker says he was railroaded by MSU and can’t wait to vindicate himself. A letter to the school from his lawyers stated: ‘‘The conversations Tucker had with Ms. Tracy regarding her appearance, flirtation and phone sex occurred exclusively in their private lives, unrelated to either Tucker’s work or her work, and were entirely consensual.’’
We’ll see how this ends. At stake is the remaining $79 million on Tucker’s contract.
And now the cherry on top: Michigan and a budding sign-stealing scandal that might derail a football juggernaut.
Coach Jim Harbaugh’s 8-0 Wolverines are shooting for a perfect record and a run at the national championship, which would include beating currently undefeated Ohio State in the regular-season finale Nov. 25. After losing to the Buckeyes for eight consecutive years, Michigan has beaten them the last two.
Now some skeptics are looking at those victories a little differently.
It seems a Michigan staff member named Connor Stalions, a former Marine captain with hardwired ideas about preparing for football battle, has been accused of buying tickets to games played by future opponents and scouting them in person or using other helpers to collect information. This is a no-no. As an NCAA rule reads: ‘‘Off-campus, in-person scouting of future opponents (in the same season) is prohibited.’’
What could be the benefit to Michigan? Well, imagine knowing what plays your foe has signaled in and being ready to stop them. If you know a bootleg right is coming, you can blow that thing to smithereens.
Whether the sign-stealing officially occurred and, if so, whether it benefitted Michigan is unknown. But the NCAA enforcement people are on campus to find out. All of a sudden, a lot of Michigan’s success — and Harbaugh’s — is in question. Fair or not, that’s the deal.
Consider that, according to Yahoo Sports, before the College Football Playoff semifinal game last season, TCU reportedly had heard about Michigan’s sign-stealing scheme and used ‘‘dummy signals’’ while beating the Wolverines 51-45 to advance to the championship game.
This was an upset, considering TCU was a touchdown underdog. Was Michigan fooled at its own game? We don’t know.
And Harbaugh is saying little. He already has claimed he knows nothing about any sign-stealing campaign. On Monday, he said he’ll cooperate with any investigation but had ‘‘too much of a one-track mind with the team to engage with all the speculation’’ right now.
According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Michigan has rescinded the contract extension it had on the table for him. His job likely is in jeopardy. He’s making about $7 million a year now, and a huge new contract, after all his recent success, would figure to be worth at least $100 million.
So among Fitzgerald, Tucker and Harbaugh, we’re talking, let’s see, maybe a quarter-billion dollars possibly flying away. Who can say for sure? It’s the wild Big Ten.