Michigan President Santa Ono called on Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti to respect due process and the ongoing NCAA investigation into the football program as Petitti considers possible disciplinary action for the Wolverines over alleged off-campus reconnaissance and signal theft, according to reports it in a letter obtained by ESPN on Saturday.
Ono emailed Petitti Thursday night ahead of their meeting Friday in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Petitti was participating in the Big Ten field hockey tournament. Petitti and Ono discussed the allegations against Michigan as well as the information Petitti received from the NCAA, sources told ESPN.
In the email, Ono noted that no program would want to be in Michigan’s situation and that he was “deeply concerned” about the allegations, adding that the school is “committed to ethics, integrity and fair play.” But Ono encouraged Petitti to let the NCAA’s investigative process play out before imposing discipline, something other Big Ten coaches and athletic directors have encouraged him to do.
Ono also shared the email with the other Big Ten presidents and chancellors.
Under the Big Ten’s sportsmanship policy, Petitti has the authority to investigate and impose disciplinary action independent of the NCAA’s lengthy investigation and violation process, which would likely extend well beyond the 2023 season.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said during a news conference Saturday night after his team’s 41-13 victory over Purdue that Ono’s public support this week was “very appreciated.” Athletic director Warde Manuel declined to answer questions Saturday night about the investigation or whether he also met with Petitti during the commissioner’s visit to Ann Arbor.
“I have nothing to say,” Manuel said.
Harbaugh declined to answer questions about possible punishment from the Big Ten. He said he felt his players were motivated by any doubts about how Michigan’s alleged cheating might have contributed to the No. 3-ranked Wolverines winning two straight Big Ten titles and going 9-0 in could start the current season.
“[They are] Steadfast and fierce warriors,” Harbaugh said. “Yes, ask them why they’re good and how they got good. That’s practically a priceless gift to get where we want to go.”
The NCAA is investigating Michigan for allegedly sending people to future opponents’ games and recording their sidelines to learn their opponents’ game-winning signals. At the center of the investigation is former Michigan analyst Connor Stalions, who resigned from his position on Friday after initially being suspended with pay.
“Especially in these times, when not all the important facts are known but others are only too happy to express strong opinions, it is important for everyone to ensure that the investigation is conducted fairly and the conclusions are based on actual events .” ” Ono wrote to Petitti. “The reputations and livelihoods of coaches, students and programs cannot be sacrificed in a rush to judgment, no matter how many and how loudly people protest. Due process is important.”
“We, like every other member of the Big10, deserve nothing less. Our students, our coaches, our program – everyone is entitled to a fair, conscious and thoughtful process.”
Ono referenced the pressure Petitti faces from other Big Ten schools to enforce discipline against Michigan. Petitti had conversations with Big Ten coaches and athletic directors this week, many of whom urged him to act, sources told ESPN’s Pete Thamel.
“We are aware that other representatives of the Big10 are demanding that you take action now, before a meaningful investigation and full consideration of all evidence,” Ono wrote. “This is something our conference rules do not allow. And we both know that allegations being made against their people or programs is not what other members would want.”
“The Big10 did not inform us of its own investigation, as required by conference rules. And to be clear, oral updates from the NCAA enforcement staff do not constitute, cannot constitute, nor do we believe the NCAA would ever intend to give an oral update that meaning or weight.”
Ono wrote that the “best course of action” would be to let the NCAA complete its investigation and that the Big Ten could not take action against Michigan without first launching its own investigation, which would give the university a chance to state its position . The Big Ten’s sportsmanship policy states that the league commissioner “has the discretion to conduct an investigation into whether an offensive act occurred or to elect not to do so.”
Sources told ESPN that if Petitti takes action, he would likely target Harbaugh rather than a team-related penalty. If the discipline exceeds a two-game suspension, Petitti will need approval from the Big Ten’s Joint Group Executive Committee, which can approve, reject or reduce a proposed penalty.
Michigan will “explore every option to protect due process” if Petitti imposes disciplinary action, according to a source.
ESPN’s Dan Murphy contributed to this report.