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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

John U. Bacon on Michigan-Michigan State rivalry game; NCAA's new UM investigation

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh - in a baseball cap and black jacket - watches against Indiana in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023.
Paul Sancya
Michigan football faces allegations that the team violated NCAA rules against scouting of future opponents in-person and engaged in sign stealing. The NCAA has announced an investigation. The news comes as Michigan and Michigan State are preparing for their annual rivalry game Saturday.

The University of Michigan football team is under a new NCAA investigation.

The NCAA is looking at allegations that U of M violated rules against scouting future opponents in-person, and that the Wolverines engaged in sign stealing.

The news comes as Michigan and Michigan State are preparing for their annual rivalry football game. They'll play Saturday night in East Lansing.

Michigan State has lost four straight games in a season that's been overshadowed by the firing of head coach Mel Tucker. The Wolverines are undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country.

Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to share his thoughts.

Saturday's game: Michigan at Michigan State - 7:30 p.m.

Doug Tribou: John, earlier this season, Michigan suspended coach Jim Harbaugh for three games as the result of an NCAA investigation into allegations of improper recruiting and some other violations. That investigation is not complete.

Now there's the news of this new investigation into scouting violations and sign stealing. The news is just coming out, so we're a long way from any resolution to it, but what is your initial reaction?

John U. Bacon: Well, let's first stipulate there's a lot more we don't know than we do. We do know that it is not against the rules to steal signals. Coaches do that all the time during games. It's why they try to hide them, of course. That's part of the game.

You cannot do it in person before your game. So that's the rule there. You're allowed to scout. You're not allowed to scout in person before the game. So those are the questions there. It's also not clear what the penalty is. It's not listed under a Level 1 penalty. So, it will likely be Level 2, if they do find Michigan guilty of this. So you're kind of back to cheeseburgers, but it's getting a lot more national attention, naturally, than the cheeseburgers did.

DT: And U of M issued a statement saying, in part, the university is fully cooperating with the investigation. In its own statement, the Big Ten conference said it had notified Michigan State and Michigan's other upcoming opponents about the sign-stealing allegations. John, you don't think the MSU fans at Spartan Stadium will mention any of this during the game Saturday night, do you? [Laughs]

JUB: [Laughs] I'm sure all of Michigan's opponents will keep this all to themselves and just see how the investigation plays out because that is the protocol here, of course.

DT: Let's turn to the actual football game Saturday night. Last week, you told me MSU's game against Rutgers was a chance for the Spartans players to show how much fight they had in them under the tough circumstances of their season. They were up big after three quarters. Then Rutgers came storming back with 21 straight points and won. What was your takeaway from MSU's performance?

JUB: They did show a lot of fight in a very tough season — through no fault of the players, of course. But down the stretch, there were a lot of fundamental mistakes. So it's a team with a long way to go. But at Michigan State right now, the focus is far more off the field for the search for the next coach than it is on the field, in fairness to the current players.

DT: Michigan demolished Indiana last weekend and the Wolverines have looked dominant all season. Only one team's gotten to even 10 points against them. But Michigan State still might be the toughest challenge the Wolverines have had so far this year. What are the keys for each team Saturday? Let's start with Michigan.

JUB: For Michigan, it's going to be turnovers. It's supposed to be rainy and that always is an equalizer. So if they keep the ball, Michigan will probably win pretty handily. For the Spartans, they have to throw the dice. Fritz Crisler, Michigan's old coach, said years ago, if the other guy's got a dollar and you got a dime, it's time to throw the dice.

That's where Michigan State is. They've got Mark Dantonio, the former [MSU] head coach now serving as a special assistant on the sidelines. He is very good at throwing the dice, historically. Count on some big risks Saturday.

DT: John, let's turn to the NFL. It's yet another Friday morning when we can say that the Detroit Lions are still in first place in the NFC North. The Lions beat Tampa Bay on the road last weekend. Sunday, they'll be in Baltimore to face the Ravens. The Lions have had a lot of great performances so far this season. Which players have impressed you the most so far?

"When you say the Lions are in first place, this is news. Trust me."
John U. Bacon on the Lions' 5-1 start this season. The team is in first place in the NFC North.

JUB: Well, not the best player in the team. They've got great wide receivers. They've got [defensive end] Aidan Hutchinson. But Jared Goff, was the quarterback who was thrown in when they traded Matt Stafford, the star quarterback, to Los Angeles. They basically threw in Jared Goff as a leftover and he is now leading this team. That is a great story. And Doug, don't forget, when you say the Lions are in first place, this is news. Trust me, that is news.

Editor's notes: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's broadcast license.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Radio staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Caoilinn Goss is the producer for Morning Edition. She started at Michigan Radio during the summer of 2023.
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