Latest development in Michigan sign-sealing saga a reminder of who controls college football

    Michigan changed its tune in regard to former analyst Connor Stalions’ sign-stealing scheme after information revealed a booster, referred to as “Uncle T,” helped fund the operation.

    On Thursday, the university dropped its lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order against the Big Ten as a result of head coach Jim Harbaugh’s three-game suspension.

    In a saga with plenty of twists and turns, the latest development is the least shocking of them all. When it comes to college football, it always comes back to boosters.

    “Boosters are the lifeblood of athletic departments,” wrote Josh Planos for FiveThirtyEight in May 2022. 

    Their power has grown in the era of name, image and likeness (NIL) deals, with collectives funded by boosters helping secure commitments from recruits.

    In a May 2022 CBS Sports article, NCAA council chair Shane Lyons discussed their influence in recruiting: “We’ve never let boosters be involved in the recruiting process. Where did it go off the tracks? … The collectives are boosters.” 

    “Those collectives,” wrote Dennis Dodd, “emerged as an unintended consequence of what has basically become unchecked NIL benefits.”

    Per Planos, “The NCAA has attempted to quell the booster influence for more than a century.” He noted a 1929 study that revealed “university alliances with booster clubs had led to a complete lack of regulation. Program control … has been paid for by alumni for as long as college athletics had existed.” 

    An NCAA presidents commission report over a half-century later, Planos wrote, “included a poll in which 87 percent of Division I presidents surveyed cited boosters as the biggest possible cause of integrity problems.”

    Boosters are also influential in coaching searches and can use their money to dictate who the university hires. When things go bad, they’re the reason being a fired college football head coach is the best job in America.

    With the money boosters spend on coaching hirings (and firings) and their growing influence on recruiting, it isn’t shocking that one would try to influence the game by funding a cheating scheme. Why leave anything up to chance when there’s already so much money involved?

    The only surprising thing about the latest development in Michigan’s case is it hasn’t happened (or been discovered) somewhere else sooner.

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