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Debate over stealing signs has reached point of ridiculousness

Graham's alleged actions don't break the rules

Head coach Todd Graham looks at the scoreboard during a game against Utah on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Head coach Todd Graham looks at the scoreboard during a game against Utah on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah.

This is getting a little ridiculous, don’t you think?

How quick some are to pounce on ASU for, as of what is known now (nothing), baseless accusations of cheating.

“But, but, but,” you clamor, “Todd Graham admitted to stealing signs!”

But he never admitted to cheating. Because to cheat, Graham would have to be breaking the rules, which he’s not.

As Article 11, section F of the 2015 NCAA Football Rules and Interpretations book states: “Any attempt to record, either through audio or video means, any signals given by an opposing player, coach or other team personnel is prohibited.”

The rulebook makes no other mention of anything resembling stealing signals. There is, however, a code of ethics. But this, too, makes no mention of stealing signs. It does cover changing numbers (seen it), using the football helmet as a weapon (yup), targeting (check), using nontherapeutic drugs (tragically prevalent), unfair tactics for drawing an opponent offsides (please) and feigning injuries (come on).

Arguing on the basis of ethics in sports is nonsensical. The entire definition of sports depends on rules. Just ask Mirriam-Webster: "Sport (noun): a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other."

Teams, coaches or players never get reprimanded or greeted with a media firestorm for following the rules, which is just what the Sun Devils were doing.

Ethics, on the other hand, have no place in the modern sporting landscape. As referenced above, even when ethical guidelines are implemented, they get largely ignored. It’s a part of the game. But more so, it’s a part of the competitive nature that exists in the U.S. today.

Is taking Adderall to get an advantage in the workplace ethical? What about using a then-legal, unconventional formation to score a touchdown? Or even the actions that prompted this whole debacle: the accusations from coaches and players at Utah, Oregon and Washington State that ASU is stealing signs?

It’s all to get ahead. And it’s all legal.

The best coaches know the rulebook inside and out and use it to their advantage. But you need only the most modest knowledge of the rules to use sign stealing to your advantage.

It’s been happening for decades in baseball. And if Graham and any number of former athletes The State Press has talked to are to be believed, it’s a prevalent part of any sport, from youth leagues to the pros.

In an ideal world, there would be a way to regulate and enforce rules against sign stealing. But we live in a world where war, famine and Greg Hardy exist. Surely, our ideal world would take care of those first before addressing stealing signals.

On the surface, “stealing signals” sounds like an unfair action. But when everyone else is doing it, is it fair to yourself to not participate?

Reach the columnist at or follow @EvanWebeck on Twitter.

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