Big Ten hellbent on taking $tupidity and greed to the next level

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The drumbeat started low and slow, with hardly anyone at the time putting much stock in the insane ramblings coming out of the normally lucid and coherent Sweater Vest.

“There’s always going to be change,” Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said at the Big Ten’s media days back in early August when asked about expansion changing the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. “I don’t think — I can’t imagine that there would ever be a change from the fact that Ohio State and Michigan are going to square off and it’s going to be exciting and meaningful and all the rest.

“How it will be done exactly and where within the year and all those things, I’m sure if we look back in our history, most recently it’s been in the last regular season game. Prior to that, it wasn’t.

While Tressel’s quotes caused a more-than-minor ripple, Michigan athletic director David Brandon shed all pretense and cannonballed into the discussion of moving the UM-OSU game from the end of the season — where it’s been for 70-plus years — to earlier in the season and allowing for the possibility that the two long-time and hated rivals could meet twice in a given season — once in the regular season, once in a conference title game.

I think there’s a distinct possibility that game will be a later game in the season but not necessarily the last game of the season,” Brandon said. “That’s simply because I don’t think the coaches or the players or the fans or the networks or anyone would appreciate that matchup twice within a seven-day period.”

Brandon’s counterpart at Ohio State, Gene Smith, was a little more demure, but no less using a public forum to brace fans for what seems like the inevitable, when he said “we may end up playing the last game of the year, or not. I just don’t know that yet.”

The latest to chime in on this potential abomination is Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.  And, just like Tressel, Brandon and Smith before him, Delany hinted strongly that the die has already been cast, and one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports is about to be devalued by moving up on the calendar when the conference announces its divisional alignments.

“I would put Michigan-Ohio State among the top five events in all of sports for rivalry,” Delany said. “It’ll get played. Now the question is, how best to play it? Are they in the same divisions or are they not? Do they play in the last game, the second-to-last game, the third-to-last game? How to do that is still under discussion. …

“You could make a good argument that Michigan and Ohio State should never really be playing for a divisional crown. If they’re going to play, play for the right to go to the Rose Bowl. When Tennessee and Florida play, when Auburn and Alabama play, only one of those teams is going to go to the championship game because they’re in the same division.”

How exactly has the Iron Bowl suffered by the two schools being in the same division, as Delany intimates?  Last time we checked, ‘Bama-Auburn in many parts of this country is viewed as the greatest, most heated rivalry in all of college football, and they’ve somehow found a way to keep that hatred alive and well for nearly twenty years while residing in the same division.

And what’s to say that the two schools intertwined in a decades-long conference rivalry have to have the opportunity to face each other in a title game, anyway?  There’s no sound logic or any semblance of a good argument in Delany’s attempt at justifying a move by shifting the attention to conference title match-ups.  How much more would be on the line if a shot at the Big Ten title game hung in the balance that weekend after Thanksgiving?  Certainly a whole helluva lot more than if The Game were the meat in a Indiana/Illinois or Northwestern/Minnesota October sandwich.  

What happens to the 2006 game or the 1969 game or the myriad other classics if they were played at any time before the end of the regular season?  Here’s a hint: they fade into oblivion and become a footnote to the rest of the regular season most years, with a slight chance that one could avenge the prior midseason loss in the conference title game.  And the reason they’d fade?  They’d be lost amongst what happened in the two or three or four games after The Game Lite was contested.

When those games were played had as much to do with the memories as how the games were played or ended.  There was something on the line, either a Rose Bowl/BcS berth or the opportunity to ruin the other’s season; move The Game from the end of the regular season, and you lose that something being played for every single year on the off-chance that they meet up, what, once every four, five years with something on the line?

This is not the era of the Ten-Year War.  There were no Penn State’s, Wisconsin’s, Iowa’s or Nebraska’s to speak of back in the days of Woody and Bo, at least not consistently.  This is a more balanced Big Ten, rife with top-shelf programs that would make the conference’s seemingly desired target of a twice-a-year grudge match between its two flagship schools much less likely than the league’s officials would care to admit or consider.

Be warned, Big Ten: you move The Game, you will rip the heart and suck the soul out of the single greatest property the conference owns.  And for what, a few more advertising dollars every few years when they do happen to stumble into a title showdown?  One that will, incidentally, likely be contested in a sterile, domed, neutral location as opposed to yet another reason that The Game is what it is — The Big House and The Shoe.

The shame in all of this is not the fact that it’s nearly a done deal; the shame is the fact that it’s being considered at all.

Duke dual-threat QB Thomas Sirk suffers ruptured Achilles tendon

Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk (1) looks to pass against North Carolina during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk will be out of offseason workouts indefinitely after suffering a ruptured left Achilles tendon this morning. The school announced via Twitter he is scheduled for surgery on Wednesday.

Sirk led the Blue Devils in passing in 2015 with 2,625 yards and 16 touchdowns while completing 58.8 percent of his pass attempts. Sirk was also intercepted eight times and was a bit of a mobile threat for Duke. Sirk rushed for 803 yards and eight touchdowns, both good for leading Duke’s rushing attack last season.

In the absence of Sirk, that should give Parker Boehme, a redshirt sophomore, and Nicodem Pierre, a freshman in 2015, a chance to get some extra reps in spring football practices. Duke is scheduled to open spring football practices on March 5, which is later than the team has typically opened spring practices. Duke is not scheduled to have a traditional spring game but will have a spring football event on April 9.

Stanford DL coach Randy Hart steps into retirement

Stanford coach David Shaw prepares to lead his team onto the field for an NCAA college football game against Oregon State, in Corvallis, Ore., Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)
AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez
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With the assistant coaching carousel continuing to spin rapidly, one key position has just opened up out west. Stanford announced the retirement of defensive line coach Randy Hart Tuesday morning.

“I am honored and blessed to have been at so many great places with so many fantastic coaches, student-athletes and fans,” Hart said in a released statement. “And for that, I’m one of the luckiest coaches ever. I have loved each one of my players, and have enjoyed working with every staff member throughout the years. Everyone has to make this decision at some point in time, and this was the right time for me and my family.”

Hart spent the final six years of his coaching career with Stanford during a highly successful run for the program. With Hart on the staff, Stanford’s defense was one of the top defensive units on an annual basis. Hart also spent time coaching at Ohio State, Notre Dame, Washington, Purdue, Iowa State, and Tampa. Hart played for Ohio State under the legendary head coach Woody Hayes. It was with Hayes and the Buckeyes that Hart got his coaching career started as a graduate assistant in 1970 and 1971. He later rejoined the Buckeyes staff in 1982 and stayed there until 1987 when he left for Washington and later took on a role as defensive coordinator.

“Randy’s career speaks for itself when you look at a national championship, Rose Bowls and all of the players he helped get to the NFL,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw. “It has been a privilege for me to watch him push young men to be their best athletically, as well as academically, and prepare them for life.

NFL banning college players with domestic violence, sexual assault convictions from combine

FILE - This Oct. 25, 2014, file photo shows Michigan defensive end Frank Clark (57) breaking through the Michigan State line during the first half of an NCAA college football game in East Lansing, Mich. Defensive end Frank Clark has been dismissed from the Michigan football team after being accused of domestic violence in Ohio over the weekend. The 21-year-old Clark pleaded not guilty Monday, Nov. 17, 2014,  to charges of assault and domestic violence. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File
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A new NFL rule will prevent college football players turning pro from attending the NFL Scouting Combine and the NFL Draft if they have been convicted of domestic violence or sexual assault. The NFL will also refuse opening the doors for any NFL-sanctioned event if a player chooses not to submit to a background check.

“It is important for us to remain strongly committed to league values as we demonstrate to our fans, future players, coaches, general managers, and others who support our game that character matters,” NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent wrote in a memo to all NFL teams last month, according to USA Today.

The number of players each year affected by the rules should be minimal on a year-to-year basis, but it is interesting to see how that could impact the draft outlook of prospects moving forward if they get mixed in some legal trouble off the college football field. As noted by USA Today, the rule would have prevented Michigan linebacker Frank Clark, a second-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks, from attending the scouting combine in Indianapolis. Clark pleaded guilty to a domestic violence incident while at Michigan.

The policy adopted by the NFL will be intended to add further consequence for players getting in trouble in college with the hope of changing the image of the NFL player moving forward. As mentioned, this is expected to have minimal impact as only a select percentage of players are invited to the combine, and an even smaller percentage are invited to the NFL Draft. If nothing else though, it is one more consequence that will come from any involvement from a domestic or sexual assault in college.

It would be interesting to see if the NCAA or conferences will be inspired to build off this NFL policy. The NFL policy does not prevent players with a checkered past from attending pro day events or other private workouts. There is no indication whether any conference or the NCAA would consider such a policy on top of existing rules and policies related to domestic violence or sexual assaults. Would a conference adopt a policy that could extend the policy on their campuses to pro day events? Would that even be fair? Or is that going too far?

Tennessee self-reports minor NCAA violations in football program

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones watches as his team warms up before the start of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
AP Photo/Wade Payne
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The Tennessee football program committed three recruiting violations between 2014 and January 2016, but do not expect the Vols to be having any NCAA hammer dropped on them. The NCAA has already accepted the school’s self-imposed sanctions and is moving on. The four minor violations were among 18 NCAA violations submitted to the NCAA according to The Knoxville News Sentinel.

One violation that was self-reported resulted in a one-game suspension for secondary coach Willie Martinez. Martinez served his one-game suspension during Tennessee’s season-opener last fall against Bowling Green. Green was found to have had impermissible contact with a junior recruit during a spring evaluation period in 2014. That violation was discovered by the NCAA offices.

Two other violations reported by Tennessee involved the publicity of recruits making visits to the school. In one, a recruit and his family entered a Tennessee behind football head coach Butch Jones. As Jones waved to the applauding crowd, Tennessee admitted this may have been construed as an acknowledgment of the unnamed recruit. As a result, Tennessee was cut off from having contact with the recruit until the eve of signing day. Another violation came when a mid-year enrollee posted a picture of himself on Twitter. A recruit on an official visit was also in the picture. Tennessee asked for light punishment for the violation as that player was not properly educated on the policies regarding recruits on visits.

The fourth violation from the football program involved complimentary tickets. A walk-on player was given a full allotment of tickets for a home game against Chattanooga despite that player’s certification expiring. That unnamed player was thus ruled ineligible for the remainder of the season.

These types of violations tend to be ticky-tack penalties according to the NCAA rule book, and can sometimes happen without even thinking. The sEC and NCAA accepted the self-imposed sanctions implemented by Tennessee for the football violations and the violations in other sports, and no further action is expected. In the end, Tennessee gets a light slap on the wrist and moves on.