What Is Sign Stealing In Football?

min read
People hold up signs on Texas sidelines to call plays during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against New Mexico, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012, in Austin, Texas.
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Chase Kiddy @chaseakiddy Nov 01, 2023, 1:26 PM

In football, sign stealing is the process of decoding the signals shown on the other team’s sidelines in order to know what kind of play it might run before it happens. 

This is not a problem in the NFL, where plays are communicated to the offense via a communications unit inside of a player’s headset. 

But in college football and lower levels, where plays are often communicated via complex signs and codes, sign stealing could potentially yield a huge advantage for opposing defenses. 


As is the case in many sports, the details matter when it comes to accusations of cheating. It’s not necessarily illegal to break your opponents codes and steal their signs, but it does matter how you steal their signs.

If Team A cracks a sign code on Team B during a game, or in the ordinary course of preparing to play, that’s fair play. This is the case for many teams. If anything, Team B should be hiding its play calls better or utilizing a more complex sign code.

However, sign stealing is in the news because of the Michigan sign-stealing scandal. Michigan’s alleged sign stealing could interfere with the Wolverines’ team aspirations, including a return to the CFP or Michigan 2023 Heisman odds.

If you want to read more about the specific details of that story, you can head over to my other article, linked above.

College Football Odds at the Sportsbook

Betting on college football odds is a unique way to add more excitement to each season.

With updated spreads, over/under totals, moneylines, and more, the sportsbook has a variety of options for everyone.

If you’re new to the sportsbook, register today with BetMGM’s welcome promo. And check out updated sportsbook promos each day of the year.

betmgm-nco-jamie-foxx
About the Author

Chase Kiddy

Read More @chaseakiddy

Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development.

Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development.