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Much Ado About Something That Goes On Every Week

man-with-binocularsSignal-stealing.  The grand no-no of sports.  The type of skullduggery that only a genuine nogoodnik would engage in.

Well, yeah.  That or everybody frickin’ does it.

In case you missed it over the weekend, current Alabama assistant director of player personnel Tyler Siskey was caught on camera using binoculars — apparently — to try and swipe Ole Miss’ signals as they were being relayed onto the field.  Siskey, you see, is a former assistant coach under Mississippi’s Hugh Freeze.


Ole Miss / Alabama 2013: Siskey sells out Freeze


A number of Rebel fans are now crying “Cheater!” and demanding an SEC inquiry.  Those folks are way, way off base.  (And I would say the same regardless of the teams involved… for all you who’ll claim I must be a big ol’ Bama fan.)

First, signals are stolen all the time.  There’s a reason so many coaches bury their faces in playsheets when speaking.  They’re not only worried about sign-stealing, they’re worried about lip-reading.  Schools also have multiple people sending in signals with some doing so for dummy purposes.

Second, knowing that Siskey had switched sides, you can be sure that Freeze and crew changed their signals for Saturday’s game.  And if they didn’t, that’s on them.

Third, I would bet you that Freeze and Ole Miss have at some point tried to steal a sign or two from some other team at some point.  Again, if no one’s doing it, why do coaches hide their mouths behind those giant laminated call sheets?

And fourth, if the SEC were to investigate, it would become a much, much bigger issue.  Think Spygate.  Conspiracy theorists claim that the New England Patriots cheated their way to three Super Bowl victories.  That’s because the NFL wanted to make sure Bill Belichick followed the edict they sent to every team: “No taping signals with video cameras.”  But in sending that message, the NFL caused itself a much bigger headache.  (Interestingly, the Belichick’s winning percentage post-Spygate is better than it was pre-Spygate.)  No one ever stopped to think that while it’s illegal to steal signs with a camera, it’s legal — because technically it’s unstoppable — to have a guy with binoculars and a note pad gather the exact same information.  The NFL made it a major issue.  Then it became a game-tarnishing issue because no one knew what was being discussed and everyone wants to believe they’ve been cheated (see: Ole Miss fans today).

If the folks in the SEC league office are wise, they won’t go anywhere near this one.  Any investigation would become an overblown issue in the age of social media and wall-to-wall ESPN coverage.  Also, there’s no way for the SEC to keep an eye on everyone in a stadium who is using binoculars.  (It’s a certainty that schools would start sending “plain clothes” sleuths into the stands to stare down the opposing sideline.)

The correct play here is to let the schools of the SEC handle sign-stealing by changing signals and covering mouths.  It’s part of the game.

If you don’t grasp that, tell Santa and Ms. Clause I said hello.


UPDATE — If you don’t like my take, here’s another from an ex-college assistant.  Warning: He sees things the way I do.



I agree with you 100% on this stealing signals stuff...pretty much word for word.  However, I do want to ask (or point out) isn't this almost the same logic you used to rail against supporters of Johnny Manziel and the whole autograph scandal and his extra curricular activities this summer?  You know, the "everyone is doing it" meme?

Ag In FM
Ag In FM

Go read read the CBS article about the game preparations of A&M the week of the Bama game. The Monday of that week, Sumlin walks into the offensive meeting and tells  the coaches that he had received word that the Aggie offensive signals were being deciphered. He then simply tells the coaches to change the signals, end of discussion. There was no ranting about cheating or filing protests. It's part of the game plan, always assume that your signals are being studied.


@MrSEC OM hired a Malzahn assistant over Summer. OM plays AU this week. Betcha OM fans don't realize that.


It's not so much the signal stealing that should be examined.  Yes, that has many of us ticked off but like you said it goes on all the time.  The inquiry needs to be into whether or not Alabama is in violation of NCAA rule which defines who can and cannot coach the team.  Neither article mentions what the rule book says.  If you are not the head coach, one of the 9 assistants, or one of the 2 GA's you cannot help coach the team in any capacity whether it be in the stadium, at practice, or on the bus.  Siskey is none of the above and shouldn't have been in the box with binoculars deciphering what OM was trying to do on offense.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator


First, if you could please link me to a story where I "railed against supporters of Johnny Manziel," I'd like to see it, because I don't remember doing so.  Could be wrong, I write a lot of stuff every day, but I don't think I wrote anything that would be called "railing against" A&M supporters.

The difference -- and it's a clear one -- is that some (not all and not the majority) Texas A&M fans started naming other players in an effort to show that Manziel shouldn't be picked on.  That's throwing other players under the bus and trying to create problems for other schools just "because."  It's a common childish tactic.  "Well, what about him?"  I'm not big on people trying to implicate other individuals when doing so would have zero impact on their own issues in the first place.

No one at Alabama -- to my knowledge -- has posted photos or videos of Auburn coaches or Kentucky coaches swiping signals just to show that others have done the same thing (though I'm sure some have tried to dig some up).  

And for the record, if the SEC or the NCAA decide to investigate Alabama over this matter, we'll say the same thing we did about Manziel -- Everybody may be doing it, but your the only ones the "authorities" are looking into.  Fair or not.

Another difference -- and again, it's a big one in our view -- is that everybody really does steal signals.  Why do you think coaches hide their faces and mouths whenever they call a play?  Everybody does not, however, sign thousands of autographs in a single sitting.  Some others might do it, but it's definitely not as common as sign-stealing.  Not even close.

Further, sign-stealing isn't even an NCAA violation, to my knowledge.  Selling autographs (or failing to stop others from profiting from your likeness) very much IS a violation.  That's why Manziel was eventually slapped on the wrist with a one-half suspension.  

The closest rule this Alabama issue comes to violating is Bylaw which states: "No individual other than coaches designated to fill the coaching categories set forth in Bylaw 11.7.2 may participate in any manner in the coaching of the intercollegiate team of a member institution during any football game, practice or other organized activity."  Whether or not Siskey's actions violated this rule is open for debate.  Was he "coaching" while simply looking at the opposing sidelines through binoculars?  No.  If the definition of coaching is working with the players -- and that's how we'd take it -- absolutely not.  Ole Miss fans would argue that coachin' is coachin' but this rule was instituted to prevent schools from hiring specialists to work with their players.  It wasn't put in place -- to my knowledge -- to prevent other university personnel from providing an extra set of eyes to the actual coaches from a pressbox location.

As you can see, I view the two incidents as being wholly unrelated.  Here's hoping you don't feel that I just railed against you.

Thanks for reading the site,



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