John U. Bacon: Michigan football's legal challenge "unavoidable" after Big Ten's suspension of Harbaugh
On Saturday, college football fans across the country enjoyed traditional pre-game rituals, tailgating with friends and family, performances by marching bands, and waiting to see if a court of law would allow the head coach to attend the big game.
Actually that last one only applied to the University of Michigan and Jim Harbaugh did not end up coaching his team because of the Big Ten conference suspended him over the sign-stealing scandal at U of M.
Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to discuss the ongoing scandal, U of M's pending legal challenge, and other sports news.
Saturday's games: Michigan at Maryland - Noon
Michigan State at Indiana - Noon
Doug Tribou: John, there have been a lot of wild sports moments in my lifetime, but just hours before game time, a team waiting to see if a court order will allow its coach to be on the side that day. Is that a new one for you, too?
JUB: [Laughs] It is for me and I think perhaps for sports. So, yes, the crazy week continues.
DT: Let's look at the Big Ten's moves here. The conference on Friday suspended Jim Harbaugh for the final three games of the regular season. A lot has come out about UM assistant Connor Stalions and his alleged role in stealing signs for U of M, but to date, there's no evidence that Jim Harbaugh was aware of it. Could you explain the philosophy about head coaches that the Big Ten says it's applying with this suspension?
JUB: Yeah, this stuff gets into the legal weeds very quickly. This story is more in the courts than it seems to be on the field, so welcome to the modern era. But what the Big Ten is citing is rule 18.104.22.168, which they passed in January of this year.
"This story is more in the courts than it seems to be on the field, so welcome to the modern era."John U. Bacon on Michigan's response to the Big Ten's suspension of UM coach Jim Harbaugh.
This is unprecedented, has never been tested before. We don't have a sense of what the parameters might be, but it basically says it's what I call the "captain of the ship" rule, which means whether the head coach knew — or did not know — whatever his staffers were doing, he is still responsible.
DT: After the Big Ten announced that Harbaugh would be suspended, the University of Michigan filed a request for a temporary restraining order against the Big Ten.
Now a hearing on that request in Washtenaw County Circuit Court is set for this Friday morning. What's your view of getting the legal system involved here?
JUB: Obviously better if you don't have to, but in this case might be unavoidable on both sides. The courts really do not want to get involved in your homeowner's association or your company's internal disputes or, of course, Big Ten football, if they can avoid it, unless you can show that your organization is not following its own written rules. And that's what Michigan is trying to do in this case.
DT: Meanwhile, with offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore as [acting] head coach, Michigan ground out a tough win over Penn State on Saturday. They have another road game this Saturday, this time against Maryland. The team used Harbaugh's suspension as a rallying cry. How much can that energy carry them if Harbaugh isn't back for the next two games with that last game being against Ohio State?
JUB: It will carry them through the Maryland game because Maryland's just not that good. They're okay. They are now bowl-eligible, which means you're average, of course. But man, it's very hard to imagine in a game like Michigan v. Ohio State, where both will probably be undefeated, [ranked] top two or three each, and with everything on the line, the Big Ten title, a college football playoff berth, perhaps a national title. Why would you not want your head coach to be on the sidelines? That would be a real deficit, for sure.
DT: Well, before I let you go, let's talk about the Lions. Another week, another win. Detroit made a last second field goal to top the Chargers 41-38 yesterday in Los Angeles. The Lions are 7-2 on the season. What is driving their success right now?
JUB: Well, they've drafted very well and they have actually good players. So there's one good thing. That's a good idea right there. But it's really Dan Campbell, the head coach and the amazing culture that he's created. Even when they started out bad [in] seasons in previous years, the team always stuck with him.
He has got a great culture, but let's back it up. You asked me if I've ever seen a court order keep a coach on the sidelines. No, I haven't. I have also never seen in my lifetime, I don't think, the Lions at 7-2.
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.
Editor's Note: The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's broadcast license.