Rumors fly that JoePa will retire after bowl game

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A couple of days before Penn State’s regular-season finale against Michigan State, Joe Paterno made it very clear that he intends on returning for the 2011 season.

“I’m looking forward to it,” the 84-year-old coach, whose three-year contract expires next year, said. “I think we can be a pretty good football team next year, and I’d like to be a part of it. … It’s been a good situation and I don’t see any reason to leave it right now.”

Those words put out there for public consumption, however, may belie what’s truly going on behind the scenes a month later.  The speculation has been ongoing for many days, if not weeks, and has now become too loud, too consistent and, most importantly, too voluminous to ignore.

If the rumblings are correct, Coach Paterno will lead Penn State in the Outback Bowl and then ride off into the retirement sunset.  Again.  Allegedly.

At least that’s what multiple sources in and around the athletic department are saying, all of whom state very emphatically that the wheels have been set in motion for Paterno to step down gracefully following the bowl game and for the school to commence a national search for someone currently outside of the football program to replace the living legend.  All point to significant health concerns as being the reason behind the rumored abdication of his Happy Valley throne.

Rumors of family and close friends filling up extra planes to be with him for the bowl game abound, as do the connotations drawn from Tom Bradley, his loyal and trusted assistant of 32 years, actively seeking the Temple opening ultimately filled by Steve Addazio.  One former Nittany Lion player still connected to the program suggested to CFT that Bradley’s involvement in the Owls hunt for a new head coach is the biggest sign yet that the end is near for Paterno.  “If Coach [Paterno] were going to be around, or if they were going to stay in-house [for a replacement], [Bradley] wouldn’t have been aggressively eyeballing [the Temple opening],” the ex-player, who requested his name not be used, explained.  Additionally, Paterno allegedly struggled mightily at the senior banquet at season’s end, with his players supposedly tweeting about their coach being “out of it” and Paterno referencing playing in a “Thanksgiving bowl game”.

It’s all been woven together into such a convincing and compelling argument that, this time, all of the talk of Paterno’s coaching death may not be exaggerated.

It should be very clearly and very plainly noted, however: we are not reporting that Paterno is stepping down/retiring/resigning after the bowl game.  Rather, we are merely pointing to innuendo that’s beginning to overwhelm the rumor mill and needs to at least be addressed.  In seeking to track down the veracity of these rumors, we reached out to the school for a comment.

“Coach Paterno has already publicly stated his plan to continue coaching and we have no comment on rumor or speculation to the contrary,” PSU Assistant Athletic Director/Communications Jeff Nelson told CFT in an email Wednesday evening. Interestingly, Nelson also pointed us to an Associated Press story in which the writer notes that Paterno was “spry-looking” following practice Wednesday.

In that AP article, Paterno was still talking about next year and still giving no hints that he was doing anything but returning.  Speaking to reporters as the Nittany Lions prepared for the Outback Bowl, Paterno said that the team would be using this game as a springboard for 2011, intimating once again that he would be involved.

“We’ve got a very young team,” Paterno said according to the Associated Press. “We’ve got about 60 kids here that are freshmen and sophomores. Some of them are pretty good athletes that need some work. So I think in that sense you’re hoping that you can get some things developed that are going to carry over to next year. But no matter what, you’ve got to play a team like Florida, you ought to try and win.”

Because of his age and longevity — Lyndon Johnson was sitting in the Oval Office when Paterno took over as Penn State’s head coach — speculation has swirled around an “imminent” departure for more than a decade.  This time around, though, there’s more smoke surrounding his status than there’s ever been, signaling there may be a very real fire burning underneath all of the innuendo.

Only time will tell whether or not this latest round of rumor mongering is yet another false alarm.  Or whether it’s a fully involved five-alarm blaze that won’t be extinguished until after the New Year.

Suspended Mich. St. staffer receives one-MONTH contract extension

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A disturbing situation in East Lansing has added a head-scratching twist.

According to ESPN.com, and by way of a Freedom of Information request, Michigan State football staffer Curtis Blackwell was on the receiving end of a one-month contract extension earlier this month.  Blackwell, whose title with the football program is director of college advancement and performance, was set to see his contract expire at the end of this week.

What makes this development noteworthy is that Blackwell has been indefinitely suspended by the Spartans since early February.

Around that time, it was confirmed by the university that three still-unnamed MSU football players had been suspended after allegations of sexual assault were made against them last month.  An unnamed football staffer was suspended at the time as well; that staffer was subsequently identified as Blackwell.

A police investigation, as well as a Title IX probe, into the allegations continue.  Blackwell is not accused of participating in the alleged sexual assault, but rather a non-sexual crime that’s connected to the investigation.

Mark Dantonio hadn’t spoken publicly about the allegations until earlier this week, and the head coach probably would’ve been better served to have kept it that way.

A&M, UCLA both add New Mexico to future schedules

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Texas A&M and UCLA announced Wednesday that their 2017 opener had been moved from Saturday to Sunday.  As it turns out, that wasn’t the only scheduling news connecting the two football programs.

As part of a release announcing seven games being added to its future schedules, New Mexico confirmed that two of those contests will include A&M and UCLA.  Both of those games, obviously, will be on the road, with the Lobos traveling to College Station Sept. 18, 2021, and to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl Sept. 13, 2025.

In its release, the school wrote that “[t]he game in College Station has a guarantee of $1,100,000 and 450 complementary tickets,” while “[t]he game in Pasadena has a guarantee of $1,200,000 plus 2,000 complementary tickets that UNM can sell for extra revenue.”

The last and only time New Mexico and UCLA squared off was in the 2002 Las Vegas Bowl, a 27-13 win for the Bruins.  UNM and A&M actually completed a home-and-home series relatively recently, with the Aggies winning both games played in the 2008 (28-22) and 2009 (41-6) seasons.

In addition to the future Power Five games, a continuation of the long-running rivalry with UTEP will be extended.  UNM will play in El Paso in 2021, then host UTEP in 2022.  Those two games will mark the 79th and 80th contests in the regional rivalry.

Michigan State, Washington round out future schedules with Utah State

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Needing to fill a single spot in some future schedules, both Michigan State and Washington have come calling to the Mountain West for an opponent. Utah State was happy to oblige.

Michigan State will host Utah State on September 1, 2018. The Aggies will travel to Washington on September 19, 2020. For their travels, Utah State will collect $2.9 million between the two games, according to FBScheduels.com ($1.4 million from Michigan State, $1.5 million from Washington).

The Big Ten and Pac-12 each use nine-game conference schedules, leaving three spots open for non-conference games. The Big Ten requires all conference members schedule one game per season against another power conference opponent (the Pac-12 has no such requirement of its members at this time), although exceptions are made. Utah State, as a member of the Mountain West Conference, would not satisfy that requirement for the Big Ten, but the Spartans already have a road game against Arizona State (Pac-12) on the schedule in 2018. Michigan State and Arizona State will play again in 2019 in East Lansing. Michigan State also has future power conference matchups with Notre Dame (2017, 2026, 2027) and Miami (2020, 2021). Michigan State will also play BYU in 2020 in Provo.

Washington has future power conference matchups with Rutgers (2017), Auburn (2018, in Atlanta), and Michigan (2020, 2021). The Huskies will also face Mountain West Competition from Fresno State (2017), Hawaii (2019), and Nevada (2027).

Utah State will face power conference opponents on the road in 2017 (Wisconsin, Wake Forest), 2018 (Michigan State), 2019 (Wake Forest, LSU), 2020 (Washington), and 2021 (Washington State). Utah State will also host Washington State in 2020 as part of a home-and-home deal. Utah State also has an annual series against BYU running through 2020.

Old Dominion hopes to “hit the ground running” on new stadium project

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Some fans of the Old Dominion football program may be getting a little impatient with the progress (or lack of) in the development of the football stadium, but Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig says things are coming along nicely and progress will start to be seen soon enough.

“Once we get the architects engaged, we’ll figure out what $55 million will buy in 2019 dollars,” Selig said, according to The Virginian-Pilot. “Then we’ll have an idea for how much additional money needs to be raised to support the project.”

Old Dominion is planning on tearing down Foreman Field at the end of the 2018 season and rebuild it with modern seating and amenities. The $55 million project remained on the books in the Virginia budget in February, allowing the university to move ahead with their plans. The first step is finding an architect to take on the job.

Because Old Dominion’s football stadium is among the smallest in the nation and will remain so even after the rebuild and renovations, the entire project is expected to move fairly swiftly once the work actually begins. Old Dominion isn’t building a grand football palace, so any concerns over the lack of updates on the stadium should be calmed.

If nothing else, the concerns raised about the lack of updates on the stadium renovations may just mean Old Dominion has some eager fans excited about the future of the program.