Big Ten to give expansion an exploratory group hug

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Both Penn State’s Joe Paterno and Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema stumped to varying degrees this offseason for the Big Ten to fully and wholly embrace the idea of expanding to twelve teams.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the two coaches — and any other proponent of expansion — could be closer to seeing conference growth coming to fruition.

Citing an unnamed league official, the Tribune reported that the conference will release a statement today in which they will announce that expansion has moved to the front burner, as the paper puts it.

This past Friday, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, another supporter of expansion, hinted that something could be in the offing, saying that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany “is going to take this year to really be more aggressive about it. I just think everybody feels [expansion] is the direction to go, coaches and administrators.”

And Alvarez, as well as the Tribune, could not have hit the nail on the head any cleaner as the Big Ten administrators did indeed release a statement this afternoon outlining the league’s intentions to explore expanding the league from 11 to 12 teams.

According to the release, commissioner Delany “has been asked to provide recommendations for consideration” by the league’s Council of Presidents/Chancellors (COP/C) “over the next 12 to 18 months.”

The conference office has been asked, the statement read, “to obtain, to the extent possible, information necessary to construct preliminary options and recommendations without engaging in formal discussions with leadership of other institutions.”

The statement added that “[n]o action by the COP/C is expected in the near term.”

A move to twelve teams would allow for the league to be split into two six-team divisions and a championship game to be held at the end of the regular season.  Additionally, it would allow the conference to remain part of the national landscape well after Thanksgiving.  As currently constructed, the conference is a non-entity from, basically, before Turkey Day until the bowls start rolling around.

Should the conference ultimately approve an additional team, there are three questions that would need to be answered:

WHO?

If the Big Ten had their druthers, Notre Dame would’ve been a part of the conference years ago.  They are a perfect fit academically and athletically, and would likely be pursued yet again.  And would likely rebuff the league yet again.

Short of the Irish, several schools have been bandied about as possibilities as a twelfth: Cincinnati, Missouri, Rutgers, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Louisville.

WHERE?

Once a 12th team is decided upon, you would need to split the conference into two divisions and decide which teams go where.  Rivalries such as Ohio State-Michigan, Michigan-Michigan State and the like would need to be preserved, but there could be some annual match-ups that may be forced to the wayside, at least on a yearly basis.

Here’s one way the conference could look, although it would need to be tweaked depending on the location of the additional team:

EastMichiganMichigan St.Ohio St.Penn St.PurdueIndiana

WestIllinoisIowaMinnesotaNorthwesternWisconsin(new team)

Missouri and, maybe, Louisville would make solid additions to the “Western” division, while Cincinnati, Rutgers, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia would fit in the “Eastern” division.  Indiana could be the swing team regardless of which school joins.

WHAT?

As in, what would you call the conference?  Well, they have eleven teams and are still called the Big Ten.  Would an additional team really necessitate a name change?

[Writer’s note: This story has been edited and given a new headline to reflect the fact that MSNBC.com requested it for their front page.  I obliged.]

Rutgers avoids scholarship reductions, other harsh sanctions as NCAA issues ruling

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The Rutgers football program can officially breathe a huge sigh of relief.

As the culmination of a two-year investigation into the football program, the NCAA on Friday announced its final ruling on a case involving Rutgers.  Despite a failure to monitor charge, the NCAA essentially accepted the sanctions the university had previously self-imposed on itself for violations ranging from academic improprieties to drug-testing irregularities to lack of oversight in the recruiting ambassador program.

Below are the original penalties self-imposed by the program:

  • a 1-year probation period
  • a $5,000 fine
  • a reduction of 10 off-campus recruiting days (five in the fall of 2017-18 and five in the spring)
  • a limit of 36 official visits hosted, 26 lower than the limit
  • a 1-week ban on initiating phone calls, contact on social media and written correspondence to recruits

The only change made by the NCAA was bumping the probation period from one year to two.  Additionally, former head coach Kyle Flood, now an assistant with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, received a one-year show-cause.

The NCAA had particularly pointed words for Flood.

“The former head coach took a casual approach to compliance as it relates to the host program,” the panel said in its decision. “He exercised little, if any, oversight of the group, permitting recruiting staff to administer the program with no supervision. As the individual who had ultimate oversight of all aspects of the football program, it is implicit that the head coach was also responsible for the actions of football hosts and, ultimately, the violations they committed.”

In September of 2015, Flood was suspended for three games in the wake of a university investigation into his alleged actions.  The probe centered on an email that Flood sent from a private email account to an RU faculty member regarding the eligibility of one of his former football players.

That situation was highlighted in the committee’s decision:

In the last instance of not following university policy, the former head coach contacted a student-athlete’s instructor, contrary to university policy, to arrange for extra coursework after the conclusion of the term so the student-athlete could pass the class and be eligible for the fall 2015 season. After contacting the instructor and before meeting with her, the former head coach reached out to an academic support administrator, who warned against contacting the instructor. The former head coach stated he was unaware of university policy prohibiting him from contacting faculty members.

The former head coach provided the student-athlete with an impermissible academic extra benefit when he contacted the instructor to arrange extra coursework, an arrangement that is not available generally to the student body. The instructor ultimately did not accept the extra coursework, and the student-athlete was ineligible for the fall 2015 season.

The NCAA kicked off its probe of the football program in the spring of 2015, prior to Flood’s suspension.  The head coach, along with athletic director Julie Hermannwas dismissed in late November of 2015.

Ex-A&M AD: ‘I had nothing to do with’ Kevin Sumlin’s massive contract extension

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If you’re a fan of honesty — or at least one man’s version of what he honestly thinks is reality — this one’s in your wheelhouse.

In 2012, the first season for both Kevin Sumlin in College Station and Texas A&M in the SEC, the Aggies went 11-2 overall and 6-2 in conference play, largely behind the play of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. In February of 2013, and after Sumlin had been mentioned in connection to a couple of NFL jobs, a six-year, $30 million contract extension was approved by the university.

Since that reworked contract and the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the football program? A&M has gone a middling 35-20 and, more importantly, just 15-17 in conference play. More to the point, the Aggies have finished fourth, sixth, fifth and fourth the past four seasons in the even-more hyper-competitive SEC West. An even finer point? They are 9-15 against divisional foes in that same span.

Following the historic season-opening collapse to UCLA in the 2017 opener, one A&M regent — part of the same body that approved the extension — very publicly called for the immediate firing of Sumlin, who was still the seventh-highest-paid head coach in college football in 2016. That came on the heels of Sumlin’s boss, athletic director Scott Woodward, very publicly putting his head football coach on the hot seat this offseason by stating that Sumlin “knows he has to win and he has to win this year.”

This week, Woodward’s predecessor, Eric Hyman, washed his hands of the contract that’s seemingly saddling the university, telling Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that, in essence, he had absolutely nothing to do with the contract extension. At all. That those above his paygrade gave him his marching orders when it came to the new deal.

From Engel’s piece:

Was That Contract Hyman’s decision?

“No. I had nothing to do with it,” Hyman told me in an interview on Wednesday morning at a Starbucks near his home in Fort Worth.

“I have done this job a long time and I don’t blame Kevin Sumlin. If someone is going to give you $5 million a year for six years, it would have been stupid of him to turn it down,” Hyman said. “But the contract was given to me, and it was ‘This is what we are going to do.’ I looked at myself and I was stunned.

“I had no say so over it. I’ve been doing this job for a long time. I had worked with Steve Spurrier for years, and he was paid a heck of a lot less than Coach Sumlin. And he won national championships after conference championships. And then you are making this commitment to a person, and again I don’t blame Kevin, that’s never won a conference championship.

“When the original contract was given to me, if Kevin were to leave the next day there was no buyout provision.

There’s literally no gray area there. If Hyman’s version of events is correct, and A&M is forced to oust Sumlin at some point in the next couple of months, any financial ramifications the university faces can be placed squarely at the feet of those who forced the contract on Hyman.

As for those financial ramifications? It would reportedly cost A&M in excess of $11 million to get rid of Sumlin.

About-face: Derrius Guice will play vs. Syracuse after all

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Never mind, I guess.

Wednesday night, Ed Orgeron flatly stated on his radio show that Derrius Guicewill not play this week” against Syracuse because of a left knee injury sustained in Saturday’s embarrassing loss to Mississippi State. Thursday, there was a complete 180-degree reversal.

“We got some good news today, at the beginning of the week, Derrius was ruled out, up to yesterday he wouldn’t be able to play,” Orgeron said according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “He came to us today and said ‘Coach, I’m feeling better, I want to practice.’ He practiced pretty good today so he’s going to get some snaps. He will play.”

OK then.

Through three games, Guice leads the Tigers with 300 yards rushing and is tied for tops on the team with four rushing touchdowns. His rushing yards are currently fourth in the SEC; last season, his 1,387 yards were tops in the conference.

Pitt FB/TD machine George Aston set to return vs. Georgia Tech

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One of the most efficient touchdown producers in college football in 2016 that you were probably completely unaware of appears ready to make his 2017 debut.

A vague lower-extremity injury knocked George Aston out of most of not only summer camp but also Pittsburgh’s first three regular-season games as well. With Georgia Tech on the horizon in Week 4, the fullback is listed as probable on the team’s official injury report released Thursday.

For a team that has scored just four offensive touchdowns in two games against FBS competition, Aston’s potential return could serve as somewhat of a boon for that side of the ball.

Last season, Aston totaled 75 yards on 22 carries as well as 169 yards on 22 receptions. In those 44 touches, Aston totaled 10 touchdowns — five on the ground, five through the air.

Saturday’s game will serve as the ACC opener for both Pitt and Tech.