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 This should be a time of celebration and anticipation at Michigan.

The focus should be on  how Jim Harbaugh, after all those early missteps as coach at his alma mater, finally has a team that has all the ingredients to reach its national championship goal.

Instead, the Wolverines' storyline is an embarrassing soap opera about sign-stealing. It’s a blemish not only for Michigan, but the entire Big Ten.

And if the Harbaughs do win the national championship, it comes with a big, ugly asterisk.

More is expected from a traditional power and a legendary conference. This is off the rails.

Barring—ugh!—a court injunction, Harbaugh will have been suspended for half of Michigan’s 12 regular-season games.

Despite Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel’s self-righteous protests, I am not even sure what the impact is of a game-day suspension.

Assistant coaches can do the Xs and Os. They do that, anyway. Unless Harbaugh is locked in a padded room without a TV or cellphone, he can watch and flash signals for major decisions.

Michigan is really skilled at signals, right?

Back in the good old days, teams used to receive television bans and bowl bans. Those are gone. They hurt everyone’s precious bottom line.

The Harbaugh suspensions would be more impressive, I believe, if they were without pay. Harbaugh suspended for six of 12 games? Then he should only receive $4 million of his $8 million salary. And put that money to good use—outside the realm of athletics.

Oh. And pleading ignorance is no excuse. Even if he didn’t know that there was a renegade on the payroll, if it happens on his watch, he’s responsible. That’s true with recruiting, off-the-field misbehavior. Everything.

Or, how about an eye-for-an-eye penalty? If the Wolverines gained a competitive advantage, in effect, a 12th man—by knowing what plays an opponent was going to run—hand them a competitive disadvantage.

Let Michigan play with 10 men. Hockey teams play shorthanded all the time. If that’s too harsh, then make the Wolverines go 12 yards for a first down. And give their opponent a first-and-eight.

I know. That’s not going to happen.

What is going to happen is that a glorious season now is forever tainted by sign-stealing crime-and-punishment. Even if Michigan wins the national championship, it will be accompanied by that asterisk.

Which is sad. Not only for the Wolverines and their supporters, but also for everyone who cares about college football.

Over sign-stealing? Yes, this is extreme. But sign-stealing is a part of our sports culture.

Where you stand on the Jim Harbaugh & the Sign-Stealing Scandal depends on. . . where you stand on Jim Harbaugh.

I could do without some of the Harbaugh excesses that rub people the wrong way. But because I root for the story—which is what we old-time scribes do—I like the fact that Harbaugh is a quirky, flaky updated version of an ironhead football coach.

And yet, this is too sleazy and petty at the same time. There’s a Watergate-like overkill going on. Is Michigan stealing Indiana’s signs? Northwestern’s? Just go play football.

Even if it’s Ohio State, just try to win fair and square. This win-at-all-costs mentality is wrong, wrong, wrong.

More importantly, though, while sign-stealing is kind of a given in sports, if Michigan has taken it to whole ‘nother level—with a Watergate-like bungler at the heart of the operation—then, OK. swift judgment.

Hiding behind due process—wouldn’t it be hilarious to hear some of these football guys give their definition of that legal term?—is a great tactic that works in Michigan’s favor.

If this had been unaddressed, by mid-January, Michigan would have gotten away with cheating. And don’t be surprised if, after this season, Harbaugh flees to the NFL, which does not have an extradition treaty with either the NCAA or the Big Ten.

This is where the Big Ten could really use a commissioner with actual, um, sports administration experience. I don’t know a lot about the new guy, Tony Petitti, except that he’a an expert at TV contract negotiations. And real estate in California, Oregon and Washington.

Nothing wrong with that, but it is a sign of the times. I would recommend that he have Jim Delany favorited on his cellphone. Whether informally, or as a hired consultant—whatever it takes, just do it.

Oh and by the way, how comical is it that some maize-and-blue people are saying, `` Wait until the NCAA has concluded its investigation and is ready to act.’’

The NCAA and ``act’’? In the same sentence?

That said, opposing Big Ten coaches have a right to be upset. This is their livelihood.

As my TMG colleague Mark Blaudschun has pointed out, this all could have been avoided if college football followed the NFL and used devices in helmets that allowed communications between coaches and players. This is actually the kind of stuff that the Big Ten used to pioneer under Mr. Delany, who was an early advocate for using replay review to improve officiating.

Instead, we have to settle for a new low in sportsmanship and values—two things that Michigan and the Big Ten pretend to care about.