ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — The University of Michigan warned Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti about overstepping his authority and rushing to judgment, insisting Wednesday that he cannot discipline coach Jim Harbaugh under the conference’s sportsmanship policy for an alleged sign-stealing scheme that has rocked college football.
Parts of the blistering 10-page letter sent to Petitti were shared with The Associated Press by two people who have seen it and spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by the school to disclose its contents.
The letter is Michigan’s response to the Big Ten’s notification of potential discipline of Harbaugh’s undefeated second-ranked team, which is among the favorites to win the national championship.
Yahoo Sports first reported the contents of Michigan’s response.
Michigan’s letter said the Big Ten cannot take action if a formal decision has not been made about whether rules were violated, one of the people said.
The school also says it would not be fair to discipline the program in part because it provided the Big Ten with evidence suggesting other conference schools were stealing signs and sharing them with one another.
“The conference should act cautiously when setting precedent given the reality that in-person scouting, collusion among opponents, and other questionable practices may well be far more prevalent than believed,” the letter said.
The Wolverines now must wait for Petitti, the Big Ten’s first-year commissioner, to decide whether to punish them quickly or wait for the NCAA to complete its investigation.
The mostly likely penalty would be a suspension of Harbaugh, though Michigan claims in the letter it would be unprecedented to punish its ninth-year head coach under the sportsmanship policy.
Harbaugh, who sent his own separate response to the NCAA, has denied any knowledge of the scheme. He served a school-imposed, three-game suspension earlier this season for an unrelated and still unresolved NCAA infractions case.
Michigan noted that unlike NCAA bylaws, the conference does not have a rule holding a coach accountable for any misdeeds within a program.
The Big Ten had not yet shared any evidence with Michigan that shows Harbaugh knew or was involved with Stalions’ scouting operation, both people said.
That is in line with comments by a low-level staffer at the center of the investigation, Connor Stalions. He resigned last week and through his attorney said that, to his knowledge, none of the Michigan coaches told anyone to break rules or were aware of improper conduct when it came to advance scouting.
The NCAA investigation may not be done until after the season ends with the Jan. 8 national championship game, though the governing body has not provided a timeline.
Michigan (9-0) plays its toughest game of the season on Saturday at No. 9 Penn State. Harbaugh’s team has a shot to win a third straight Big Ten title and the school’s first national championship since 1997.
The football program with the most wins in college football history is prepared to take possible legal action and seek a court order against any punishment handed down by the conference.
The case has shadowed the Wolverines and the College Football Playoff discussion for nearly three weeks.
At the Michigan Statehouse, state Reps. Phil Skaggs and Graham Filler were among 11 members of the Michigan House and Senate that sent Petitti a letter on Wednesday, urging the Big Ten to give Michigan a “fair, unbiased investigation into allegations,” and to reserve potential punishment until the investigation is complete.”
Michigan has said it is cooperating with the NCAA.
The NCAA doesn’t outlaw sign-stealing, but it has rules against in-person scouting of opponents and using electronic equipment to steal signs, which Stalions is reportedly accused of orchestrating.
Big Ten schools have provided the conference and NCAA with records for ticket purchases in Stalions’ name and some video surveillance footage of people sitting in those seats, holding cellphones pointed toward the field.
Big Ten coaches and athletic directors have urged Petitti to discipline Michigan under the conference’s bylaws that cover sportsmanship and competitive integrity.
Nebraska coach Matt Rhule, appearing on Andy Staples of On3, said a video meeting last week was the first chance for all the conference coaches and the commissioner to talk about the Michigan case.
“I think a lot of people’s lives, livelihoods, jobs, their seasons, players, players’ health, all kinds of things, have been impacted by this,” Rhule said.
AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report. Follow Larry Lage at http://twitter/larrylage and Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com.