Jim Harbaugh finds himself squarely in the crosshairs of public scrutiny as damning allegations of unprecedented illegal scouting mount against Michigan.

The NCAA, which was already investigating the Wolverines for recruiting violations and Harbaugh personally for allegedly lying during said investigation, has been on the U-M sign-stealing case for several weeks already. Now, the Big Ten is getting involved, reportedly set to administer in-season discipline to Harbaugh and U-M this week.

Michigan fans, both in the general public and within the media, have performed some impressive mental gymnastics in recent weeks, excusing and rationalizing the Wolverines' reportedly historic (and not in a good way) illegal-scouting scandal. Even for a fanbase that already was the Leaders and Best™ at rejecting indisputable reality in favor of an alternate-albeit-imaginary version of events that better suits its narrative, this is truly superlative work. U-M ought to petition the NCAA to officially sanction mental gymnastics — maybe then they'd actually win something in the postseason.

Let's recap where we are in the Michigan Mental Gymnastics cycle on the current scandal:

    • First it was, "Everyone does it!”
    • Then it was, “He was a lone wolf!”
    • Then it was, “Ryan Day’s just whining because he can’t beat us!”
    • Then it was, “It's not a big deal because other teams can just change their signs!"
    • Then it was, “You don’t know football! Sign stealing doesn't give you any real advantage!”
    • Then it was, "This is a witch hunt! Everyone is out to get us!"
    • Then it was, “That wasn't Connor Stalions on the CMU sideline at MSU’s season opener at Spartan Stadium!”
    • Then it was,“OK, so that was Connor Stallions on the CMU sideline at MSU’s season opener at Spartan Stadium. So what?”
    • Then it was, “It doesn’t matter if there’s evidence, the Big Ten, NCAA, and CFP aren’t going to cost themselves millions of dollars by punishing us!”
    • Then it was, “If the Big Ten, NCAA, or CFP try anything we’re going to sue!"
    • Then it was, “If the Big Ten tries anything we’re leaving for the ACC!”
    • Then it was, “Where’s the evidence of this supposedly sophisticated, wide-in-scope illegal-scouting scheme?”
    • Then it was, "So there is evidence — but how do you know it's legitimate?"
    • Then it was, “Who’s the whistleblower who produced this legitimate, damning evidence of a sophisticated, wide-in-scope illegal-scouting scheme?”
    • Then it was, "We're gonna release dirt on the rest of the Big Ten!"
    • Then it was, "Look at all this evidence we have of other schools stealing signs, but pay no attention to the fact that, unlike us, they all attained their intel legally!"
    • Then it was, "Illinois stole our signs last year, which is why that game was our worst performance of the regular season and why Blake Corum got hurt, despite our own pathologically recited talking point that sign stealing doesn't give you any real advantage!"
    • Now, it's, "Nothing's gonna happen to us!"
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There's obviously a lot wrong with all of that. But what most fascinates me about the way Michigan's administration and fanbase have responded to all of this is their dogged and dogmatic defense of Jim Harbaugh. They're ready to go down swinging for this guy, consequences be damned. You know, if I didn't know any better, I'd say that that devotion to Harbaugh comes off as a little cult-ish.

Probably the most oft-invoked talking point from the maize and blue side throughout this entire saga has been that Harbaugh didn't know about, let alone was he involved in, Connor Stalions' extensive and expansive illicit sideline-surveillance scheme. Never one to let facts get in the way of a more convenient falsehood, the Michigan fanbase has roundly ignored the NCAA rule explicitly stating that head coaches are presumed responsible for the actions of their entire staff. Wolverine fans are overlooking that bylaw almost as much as they're overlooking the misdeeds of their favorite football program.

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I wonder what all of those proud, loyal U-M fans would think if they knew that the legendary Glenn E. Schembechler, were he still around, would categorize Harbaugh, in no uncertain terms, as a liar, dummy, or overpaid, or some combination thereof. Don't just take my word for it. Here are Bo's own words, from an excerpt of "Bo's Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership."

Every coach, every executive, every leader: They all know right from wrong... When someone uncovers a scandal in their company, I don't think they can say, 'I didn't know that was going on.' They're just saying they're too dumb to do their job! And if they really are too dumb, then why are they getting paid millions of dollars to do it? They know what's going on.

Welp, that's problematic. Not just for Harbaugh, either. Remember, the No. 1 talking point during the Dr. Robert Anderson scandal at Michigan was that Bo couldn't possibly have known that the team physician he vouched for and kept over four decades was sexually assaulting hundreds of patients, including Michigan's own players. Forget the fact that several of Bo's former players came forward as the scandal unfolded, acknowledging that they had confided in Bo about the trauma they endured at the hands of Anderson, only to be blown off or told to toughen up. That's obviously heinous. And, per his own clearly articulated and published words, Schembechler is responsible.

Harbaugh admires Bo, who likewise considered Harbaugh a son. I guess the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree!

Now, as the Big Ten considers which disciplinary course to take against Michigan, U-M's dedication to Harbaugh is even more fascinating. Commissioner Tony Petitti reportedly recommended that Michigan administrators suspend Harbaugh themselves. Ostensibly, this would've given the conference and its 13 other members the pound of flesh they demanded for an in-season punishment against Michigan, and it would've ended the Big Ten's intervention into U-M's season, which couldn't come at a more inconvenient time.

The Wolverines could have given Harbaugh up and carried on with their national championship chase unimpeded. He doesn't call plays or run the defense — well-regarded coordinators Sherrone Moore and Jesse Minter do that, and they do it excellently. As we witnessed earlier this season, Harbaugh's absence from the sideline doesn't really impact Michigan's viability on the field. That's what happens when you have nearly two dozen soon-to-be NFL draft picks on your two-deep.

But instead the Wolverines are digging their heels in and bracing for siegecraft. They've drawn a line in the sand and taken up arms against the Big Ten, adding completely unnecessary complication and peril to the most important stretch of games for Michigan football in at least a generation.

U-M is risking it all. And for what? A guy who doesn't come close to living up to the standards set by the original Michigan Man.

Not that those standards and the entire Michigan Man ethos were ever anything other than utter mythology to begin with.

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