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The video evidence of Michigan’s signal stealing efforts was shared nonstop on Tuesday, surpassing 17 million views within 36 hours. The footage, posted by Ohio TV reporter Adam King, shows Michigan analyst Connor Stalions standing next to defensive coordinator Jesse Minter before a play and staring down Ohio State’s sideline to see a signal. Once he spotted it, Stalions responded with his own signal to help the Wolverines’ defense during the opening drive of last year’s game. Video from last year’s OSU vs Michigan game appears to show Connor Stalions who is at the center of the alleged sign stealing operation standing next to the UM defensive coordinator. See their pre-snap interaction: [Here is better quality video and story](https://t.co/aOX1HCRdmN): [Video link](https://t.co/Q6nNYt2t9x) — Adam King (@AdamKing10TV) October 24, 2023

The strong impression made on many: Gotcha! Here was the damning proof of Michigan’s in-game cheating.

A college football signal stealer watched the video on Tuesday, too. He didn’t get it.

Why are people freaking out about this clip?

The ongoing Michigan ordeal is being watched with fascination by coaches and staffers in the industry who’ve been stealing signals for years. Although the practice is legal and has been well-documented in the past, Stalions’ breaking NCAA rules by purchasing tickets to games and allegedly sending people to film future opponents has brought intense new attention.

This coach works at a Power 5 program that does not have Michigan on its schedule this season. In return for participating in this story, he requested no other identifying information be shared; he’s not trying to give up strategies that opponents could copy.

As he’s watched this story unfold over the past week, he’s seeing lots of misperceptions about the unique art of signal stealing and what is and isn’t allowed. If the allegations are true, Stalions crossing the line gives all signal stealers a bad name and makes it harder for them to do what they do best. But this coach is also surprised more than anything: How is it that people never noticed what they’re up to on Saturdays?

“The clip circulating, I’m like, shoot, that looks like every sideline I’ve been across in America,” he said. “I just think people don’t pay attention to it.”

While there are some secrets he must keep to himself, the staffer was granted anonymity in order to speak as freely as possible to The Athletic about how this game within the game actually works. Here are 10 lessons learned from a highly effective signal stealer.

  1. It’s not illegal
  2. Let’s start with the Ohio State video. To the uninitiated, it looks bad. But Michigan’s coaches were not breaking the rules. Our signal stealer thinks he knows exactly what happened on the play.

    Michigan holds up a white sign with a Nike swoosh. That tells the defense to not jump offsides on the hard count because Ohio State is about to check to the sideline. The sign goes down. C.J. Stroud and the Buckeyes offense look to their sideline for a call. Michigan’s staff reads it and points to the sky. A new sign with an image of Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young goes up.

    “That’s probably their pass board when they think a pass is coming,” the signal stealer said. “By the way, everybody’s pointing to the sky now. That’s their sign for pass, another hand signal to alert people.

    “If I’m at Ohio State, I see that right away and immediately I’m saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go to wristbands right now. They know it. I don’t know how they know it, but they know it.’”

    How the now-suspended Stalions gathered that intel is the subject of the NCAA’s investigation. That’s the important distinction to remember. There’s nothing impermissible about Michigan utilizing the intel for pre-snap decisions and in-game adjustments.

    What would be damning? Video evidence of someone filming a team’s sideline on their phone while sitting in a seat paid for by Stalions.

    “That would get people in the industry to go, ‘Oh, they’re f—ed,’” he said.

  3. Your favorite team is probably doing it, too
  4. The lack of awareness about this practice is what’s baffling to our signal stealer, especially given some of the extreme reactions he’s seen over the past week. Again, there’s a clear difference between what Michigan is alleged to have illegally done and what other coaching staffs traditionally do to steal signals. But those who are offended by signal stealing should pay a little attention to their own sideline.

    “The average fans who are crying, ‘Oh my gosh, look at them cheat!’ Well, wait ’til you see your team do it,” he said. “Because I promise you they’re gonna do it this Saturday.”

    During a game, it’s relatively easy to spot the staffer who has that particular set of skills if you’re looking for them. Some might be sitting up in the coaches’ box taking notes, but most are standing close to the action. It’s no secret what they’re trying to do.

    For that reason, this coach is not too interested in some of the outrage coming from Big Ten coaches. He fully agrees that off-campus signal scouting is wrong. But he doesn’t want to hear rival coaches deriding standard signal stealing as improper or an integrity issue.

    “They all do it to each other,” he said. “That’s what’s so silly to me about the whole thing.”

  5. All you need is tape
  6. The signal stealer has worked for a head coach who suspected rival schools might send people to his open practices or spring games to film signals. That type of paranoia is common. He does not believe Michigan’s alleged scheme is commonplace, calling it “next-level s—” that crosses the line.

    “I hope I’m not naïve in thinking he’s the only one to do it,” he said. “I don’t know.”

    In his experience, there’s no need to cross that line. If you spend enough time studying your opponents with a combination of TV broadcast tape and game tape, you’ll find patterns. The process of carefully watching signalers and logging everything he sees is time- and labor-intensive. It’s not easy to watch tape without sound and crack these codes. But it does tend to pay off.

    Stalions has been described as a “savant” and wrote on his since-deleted LinkedIn page that he employed “Marine Corps philosophies and tactics” in his role. The signal stealer insists it’s not that difficult for others to pick up this skill.

    “I promise you, within a day, I could take the average fan and watch three TV copies with them and they’ll know signals by the end of it,” he said. “We’re trying to signal in a play that a college kid has to comprehend. This isn’t rocket science. The signals are not ridiculously tough to figure out.”

  7. Results not guaranteed
  8. Let’s say you’re a signal stealer and you’ve put in the time and effort to decode your next opponent’s signals. You go into Saturday believing you know exactly what to expect. The game kicks off. You begin spying their sideline. You instantly realize you’ve never seen these signals before. They’re brand new.

    For an experienced signal stealer, few things are more irritating.

    “At the end of the day, if they get to your game and they change it all, then that was a whole waste of time,” he said.

    When he watches tape, he’s always hoping to see repeated patterns of signals and plays over multiple games. But some games might require 10 signals, and others might only require five. He has to track week-to-week differences. Is it the same guy every game? Do they change it up for quarters or halves?

    Another required talent for the role of signal stealer is the ability to see a signal live one time, instantly remember it and make a call. If you know Ohio State just signaled for a pass, that’s great. You still need to execute a simple signal that effectively conveys the intel to the defense as fast as possible.

    Pointing to the sky and holding up a Trae Young sign does not give the secondary any tells on where Stroud is throwing the ball. All it does is alert the pass rushers to get after him. The viral clip doesn’t show what happened after the snap: Stroud threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Emeka Egbuka to put Ohio State up 7-0.

  9. Don’t get got
  10. A few years ago, the signal stealer’s team suffered a blowout loss in a conference game.

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