Adam Rittenberg and Dan Murphy5 minute read
Lawyers representing the University of Michigan and football coach Jim Harbaugh filed a breach of contract lawsuit Friday night, asking a state judge to block the Big Ten from imposing a suspension on Harbaugh this weekend -end.
Along with the initial complaint, Michigan and Harbaugh filed an additional motion seeking an emergency temporary restraining order. They argued that keeping Harbaugh away from the No. 3-ranked Wolverines for Saturday’s top-10 game against Penn State would cause irreparable harm to the coach, players and the university.
The two documents — each more than 20 pages long — were filed hours after Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti announced the conference was suspending Harbaugh for Michigan’s final three regular-season games due to a football program violating the league’s sportsmanship policy.
Michigan’s lawyers wrote that the Big Ten failed to provide Harbaugh or the school with the procedural protections provided in its own rules. They said the disruption to a season in which the team could contend for a national championship “threatens the loss of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for dozens of student-athletes and irreversible harm to the reputation of the University and Harbaugh.
“This shoot first, ask questions later approach to sanctions is a flagrant violation of fundamental fairness,” they wrote.
Washtenaw County Magistrate Court Judge Carol Kuhnke will rule on the restraining order, according to a source. To grant a temporary restraining order, Kuhnke must determine that Harbaugh and Michigan have a reasonable chance of proving that the Big Ten is violating its own rules and that both parties would suffer “irreparable harm” without an immediate response from the court.
If the judge issues a restraining order before Saturday’s noon kickoff, both sides will then have the opportunity to argue their case at an injunction hearing over the next 14 days. Michigan wraps up its regular season 14 days from Saturday with a home game against rival and No. 1 seed Ohio State.
Petitti said in a letter explaining the conference’s decision to suspend Harbaugh that he had received extensive evidence from the NCAA proving that a Michigan staff member — presumably Connor Stalions, who resigned from the team last week – had orchestrated a plan to steal the coin. calling out signals for future adversaries by paying multiple people to take prohibited in-person reconnaissance trips.
Michigan’s lawyers argued that Petitti’s actions violated the contract between the league and its members by using the sportsmanship policy to punish Harbaugh instead of awaiting the results of an open NCAA investigation into the scheme .
Big Ten rules state that the sportsmanship policy can only be used to punish an individual “convicted of an offensive act” or the institution responsible for that person. Petitti said Friday he was punishing the institution by removing its head coach from the field, without specifically punishing Harbaugh. Michigan lawyers argued that Harbaugh is not an institution and therefore should not be sanctioned personally.
“The actions of Defendant Conference were fraudulent, illegal, unethical, unjustified and inherently wrongful, and were done maliciously with the improper purpose of causing the termination or disruption of Plaintiff’s relationship and expectations Harbaugh,” they wrote.
The attorneys argued that this case meets the threshold for irreparable harm due to the reputational harm the school and coach could suffer, saying it is “impossible to quantify the entirety of the significant harm that will inflict on the University in the absence of an injunction, but there is no doubt that the University, its students and the community will suffer greatly. »
For Harbaugh, they continued: “No more dramatic blow could be delivered to his character and reputation than the permanent label of ‘missing in action’ due to an alleged – but still unsubstantiated – cheating scandal.”
They suggested to the judge that the Big Ten would not be harmed by waiting for the NCAA to complete its investigation before imposing appropriate sanctions. The attorneys said it would benefit the conference to ensure that a sanction is warranted, “particularly in light of recent news reports suggesting that the alleged conduct is more widespread than previously thought.”
Petitti wrote in his Friday letter that he felt action was needed to restore competitive fairness this season because they found Michigan violated the sportsmanship policy earlier this season.
Harbaugh flew to Penn State Friday afternoon and was with the team Friday night. Kuhnke could make a decision at any time between Friday night and Saturday’s noon kickoff.
If Harbaugh’s restraining order is not granted, a source told ESPN on Friday that a possible replacement as interim head coach at Happy Valley would be Mike Hart, the running backs coach of the team. Hart previously served as interim head coach during the second half of a win over UNLV in early September, while Harbaugh was suspended by the school due to a separate NCAA investigation into recruiting violations.