UNC assistant's ties to agent at center of NCAA probe

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Less than four weeks before the start of the 2010 season, it’s uncertain whether or not All-American candidate Marvin Austin will suit up in a North Carolina uniform for a regular-season game.  After the latest investigative report from Yahoo! Sports, the uncertainty swirling around the defensive tackle is growing.

According to writers Charles Robinson and Bryan Fischer, and citing three sources close to an investigation into the Tar Heels football program, NCAA investigators have focused their attention on UNC assistant coach John Blake and his relationship with agent and long-time friend Gary Wichard.

The sources said the NCAA’s inquiry into Blake has focused on his one-time position as vice president of football operations for Pro Tect Management – an agency founded and run by Wichard since 1979. Blake is now a defensive line coach for the Tar Heels, and oversees All-ACC tackle Marvin Austin, who is also facing NCAA scrutiny.

The sources said the NCAA is investigating trips Austin took to Florida, as well as his travel and training in California in the summer of 2009, when he worked out at Proactive Sports Performance with former Tar Heel and current Wichard client Kentwan Balmer. …

A training firm for a wide array of athletes, Proactive Sports is located in Thousand Oaks, Calif., less than two miles from Pro Tect Management offices. The website for Proactive boasts 12 clients who are currently signed with Pro Tect Management, and has trained many of Wichard’s draft picks since 2005.

The tentacles of the probe that began at North Carolina has subsequently spread to South Carolina, Alabama, Pittsburgh and Georgia.  A total of nine schools — including Florida, Clemson and East Carolina — have seen NCAA investigators on their campuses since June for a variety of reasons.

 As for the UNC portion of the investigation, Wichard, as expected, has denied any impropriety between he and Blake.  In fact, Wichard hopes that the sole issue the NCAA has with Austin is his relationship with Blake.

“If the center of this controversy is my relationship with John, there’s really no controversy,” Wichard said. “If that’s what [the NCAA] is investigating, I think it’s just absurd. … I hope – I really, truly hope – that Marvin Austin’s whole case is based on me and John Blake. I hope that for Marvin Austin’s sake. At the end of the day, there’s nothing to investigate.”

Later on in the outstanding piece by Robinson and Fischer, there’s an interesting — and, on the surface, damning — exchange that takes place between the writers and Wichard.

Wichard was asked if Blake, the former Oklahoma head coach who met the agent in 1985, had ever been a Pro Tect employee.  Wichard left no gray area in his response, telling Yahoo! in no uncertain terms that “no, no, no, no… He hasn’t worked for me at all.”

When informed that Yahoo! had a Pro Tect brochure listing Blake as “Vice President/Football Operations”, Wichard likely pulled a hammy as he quickly flipped the switch to full spin mode.

“The brochure is [from] like 1997 or whatever,” Wichard said. “He was on the brochure for whatever, dealing with football-related situations. But it has nothing to do with anything. He was not working as a coach at that time. The relevance to me is ridiculous. … It doesn’t prove a thing. It’s absolutely meaningless.”

(If it was so meaningless and irrelevant, why lie when asked about it the first time?)

A couple other key points have been gleaned from the article.  First, Wichard stated that he has not spoken to the NCAA regarding the investigation.  Secondly, Wichard once again stated he has only spoken to Austin on one occasion, and that was to tell the then-junior to remain in school and not enter this past April’s NFL draft.

If the story as a whole is as Wichard has painted it, there are likely no worries on Austin’s end.  

If, which seems more realistic, it’s not?  North Carolina will have a decision to make — if the NCAA hasn’t issued any rulings or given any indications by then — before they pop the top on the 2010 season: go ahead and play Austin, knowing full well that there’s a chance he could be ruled retroactively ineligible.  Or, sit one of their best players on either side of the ball given the fact that he could be declared retroactively ineligible.

Either way, this seems to be a situation that is not going away at any point in the near future.

In advance of FBS move, Liberty announces 13 future match-ups

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Liberty doesn’t have a conference home, but the Flames aren’t letting a little logistical hurdle like that stop them from manifesting their destiny.

The school is moving up to FBS in 2018 whether FBS wants them or not, and the Flames on Wednesday took a major step forward by announcing 13 future games, primarily filling out schedules for the early years of the next decade.

“The announcement of these additional football series give Flames Nation a taste of our future football schedules,” Liberty AD Ian McCaw said in a statement. “We are close to completing schedules for our first five seasons of FBS football. I appreciate Mickey Guridy‘s diligent efforts is securing these agreements.”

The future games break out as follows:

Bowling Green
Oct. 3, 2020 — at Bowling Green
Sept. 2, 2023 — at Liberty

Marshall
Oct. 14, 2023 — at Marshall
Oct. 5, 2024 — at Liberty

Massachusetts
Nov. 2, 2019 — at UMass
Nov. 28, 2020 — at Liberty
Nov. 6, 2021 — at Liberty

NC State
Nov. 21, 2020 — at NC State

Troy
Sept. 11, 2021 — at Troy

UAB
Oct. 2, 2021 — at UAB
Sept. 10, 2022 — at Liberty

Liberty opens this season at Baylor, and will face 10 FBS foes in 2018, including trips to Virginia and Auburn.

Jasmin Hernandez reaches settlement with Baylor

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Jasmin Hernandez was not the first woman former Baylor football player Tevin Elliott raped, but she was the first one to go public. Hernandez, obviously, allowed her name to be used publicly, and with that put an identity on the sexual assault crisis at Baylor. And she was the first to insist Elliott be prosecuted.

Elliott has since been convicted and sentenced for his crimes, and on Saturday Hernandez reached a settlement with the people she accused of allowing Elliott’s assaults to happen.

Hernandez has reached a settlement with Baylor and requested former Bears AD Ian McCaw and former head coach Art Briles be removed from the suit.

“We’re moving on,” attorney Irwin Zalkin told the Waco Tribune. “Jasmin is very happy with that and pleased to be moving on with her life.”

“You kind of weigh the costs and benefits of continuing, and for her, it reached a point where she felt she could resolve the case and have some closure and move forward. It was the right time for her,” Zalkin told ESPN.

The settlement means Baylor has now reached settlements with seven plaintiffs; four Title IX suits with a total of 13 plaintiffs still remain.

McCaw, of course, has since moved on to become the AD at Liberty, while Briles — who admitted no wrongdoing in being removed from the Hernandez suit — said through an attorney he expects to coach in 2018.

Baylor, meanwhile, must now brace for the release of the Pepper Hamilton documents as ordered by a judge last week.

Oklahoma State puts up 1945 national championship signage at Boone Pickens Stadium

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Oklahoma State has decided that it was the 1945 national champion. It even has the photo to prove it.

While it is strange to name yourself a national champion more than seven decades after the fact, it is especially strange considering the banner comes significantly after Oklahoma State announced it is now the 1945 national champion. If you remember, Oklahoma State accepted the AFCA’s naming of the Pokes as the 1945 champions last year.

“After gathering all the pertinent information and doing our due diligence, it is the pleasure of our Blue Ribbon Commission of coaches to officially recognize Oklahoma State’s 1945 championship season with the AFCA Coaches’ Trophy,” AFCA executive director Todd Berry said at the time.

Known as Oklahoma A&M at the time, that ’45 Cowboys team was extremely good. They finished 9-0 on the year, opening with a 19-14 win at Arkansas, trucking Utah 46-6 in Salt Lake City, spanking Oklahoma 47-0 — the largest of OSU’s 18 wins over OU — and concluding with a 33-13 win over St. Mary’s in the Sugar Bowl.

The problem, though, is that the 1945 Army team hasn’t gotten any worse in the 72 years since. Led by College Football Hall of Famers Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, the Black Knights allowed a sum of 35 points in their run to a 9-0 mark — and never more than seven points in any one game — with wins over four top-20 teams, including legacy programs in Eastern markets such as No. 9 Michigan, No. 6 Penn and No. 2 Notre Dame.

Oklahoma State doesn’t care, though. The signage is up, and you’ll have to bring your bayonets to take it down.

Kliff Kingsbury ‘not sure’ Da’Leon Ward will play this season

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Da’Leon Ward was the bell cow of Texas Tech’s running game the last month of the 2016 season.  With a new season fast approaching on the horizon, it seems highly unlikely he’ll do the same in the early portion of 2017 — if at all.

Ward has been a non-participant throughout the whole of Tech’s summer camp that kicked off earlier this month because of unspecified issues related to academics.  Kliff Kingsbury addressed the running back’s situation Tuesday, with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal writing that the head coach’s “update sounded ominous, considering Tech’s second session of summer school ended” late last week.

In fact, Kingsbury allowed that, when it comes to Ward, he’s “not sure he’ll be back for this season or not.”

Last season, the sophomore led the Red Raiders with 428 yards rushing.  of that, 370 of the yards came in the last five games of the year.

Justin Stockton, whose 154 yards last season were fourth on the team, has been running with the first-team offense throughout camp.  Last season’s second-leading rusher, Demarcus Felton (354), is back for the 2017 season as well.