Michigan court filings seek to block Jim Harbaugh suspension

Adam Rittenberg and Don MurphyNovember 11, 2023, 12:04 AM ET5 minutes of reading

Wilbon was stunned by Harbaugh’s 3-game sideline suspension

Michael Wilbon explains why he’s stunned Big Ten Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh banned the sideline until the end of the regular season.

Attorneys representing the University of Michigan and football coach Jim Harbaugh filed a breach-of-contract complaint Friday night, asking a state judge to block Harbaugh from being banned from the Big Ten this weekend.

Along with the initial complaint, Michigan and Harbaugh filed a supplemental motion seeking an emergency temporary restraining order. They argued to keep Harbaugh out of the No. 3 spot Saturday’s top-10 game against Penn State will cause the Wolverines irreparable harm to the coach, players and university.

The two documents — each more than 20 pages long — were filed hours after Big Ten Commissioner Tony Pettitte announced the conference was suspending Harpa for Michigan’s final three games of the regular season because the football program violated the league’s sportsmanship policy.

Michigan’s attorneys wrote that the Big Ten did not provide Harbaugh or the school with due process protections outlined in its own rules. Interrupting a season in which the team could compete for a national championship “risks depriving dozens of student-athletes of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and irreversibly harms the reputation of the university and Harbaugh,” they said.

“This shoot first, ask questions later approach to sanctions is a flagrant violation of fundamental fairness,” they wrote.

Washtenaw County Court Judge Carol Kuenke will rule on the injunction, a source said. To grant a temporary restraining order, Kuhnke must determine that Harbaugh and Michigan have a reasonable chance to prove the Big Ten is violating its own rules, and that both parties will suffer “irreparable harm” without an immediate response from the court.

If the judge grants the injunction before Saturday afternoon’s kickoff, both sides will have a chance to argue their case during an injunction hearing at some point in the next 14 days. Michigan ends its regular season on Saturday for 14 days.

In a letter explaining the conference’s decision to suspend Harbaugh, Pettitte said he received ample evidence from the NCAA to prove that a Michigan employee — presumably Connor Stallions, who resigned from the team last week — masterminded the plan to steal the play. People who can’t afford to pay multiple people can go on scouting trips by inviting prospective enemies.

Michigan’s attorneys argued that Pettitte’s actions violated an agreement between the league and its members, saying the plan to punish Harbaugh using the sportsmanship policy did not await the results of an open NCAA investigation.

The Big Ten’s rules state that the sportsmanship policy can only be used to punish an individual “found to have engaged in offensive activity” or the institution responsible for that individual. Pettitte said Friday that he would punish the organization’s head coach by removing him from the field, but not Harbaugh specifically. Michigan’s attorneys argued that Harbaugh did not qualify as an entity and therefore should not be allowed to stand down as an individual.

“Defendant Conference’s actions were fraudulent, illegal, unethical, unfair and personally abusive, and malicious for the improper purpose of terminating or disrupting Plaintiff Harbaugh’s relationship and expectations,” they wrote.

Prosecutors argued that the case meets the threshold for irreparable harm because of the potential reputational damage to the school and the coach, saying, “It is impossible to quantify the full extent of the significant harm to the university. There is no doubt that the university, its students, and the community will suffer greatly.

As for Harbaugh, they continued: “Another dramatic blow to his character and reputation cannot be dealt because of the permanent stamp of ‘inactive’ because of the cheating scandal.

They suggested to the judge that the Big Ten would do itself no harm by waiting for the NCAA to complete its investigation before imposing any appropriate sanctions. “Especially in light of recent news accounts, it suggests that the alleged behavior is more widespread than previously realized.”

In his letter Friday, Pettitte said he felt some action was necessary to restore competitiveness this season because they found Michigan in violation of the sports policy earlier this season.

Harbaugh flew to Penn State Friday afternoon and was with the team Friday night. Kuhnke can make a ruling anytime between Friday night and Saturday’s noon kickoff.

If Harbaugh’s restraining order is not granted, the team’s running backs coach Mike Hart is a possible replacement as head coach in Happy Valley, a source told ESPN on Friday. Hart previously served as an acting 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.

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