College football is facing an identity crisis

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If NCAA President Mark Emmert had to give a State of the Union address similar to United States President Barack Obama, I’m not sure Emmert would know what to say. There would probably a lot of awkward pauses, some throat-clearing and a few hesitant laughs as he gazed at the hundreds of blank stares comprised of university presidents, chancellors and athletic directors looking back at him.

Emmert would not be in an enviable position because, as it stands today, it’s hard to define exactly where the state of college football resides. The same goes for most revenue producing college athletics.

College football has an identity crisis. If it was an 18-year-old college freshman, its major would be “undeclared”. The truth is that the sport has no earthly clue what to call itself.

Is it still considered an amateur sport? Every single player across all university-sponsored sports is given the title “student-athlete”. The mantra of athletic scholarships has always stated that the sport is the means to receiving a college degree.

But today’s college game hardly lends itself to that commandment.

With each passing year, universities in BCS conferences get richer and more powerful. The Pac-12’s new, reported $2.7 billion television rights agreement will ensure that every member equally gets somewhere in the ballpark of $20 million in revenue annually over the next 12 years. Big Ten schools have been pulling in similar numbers from the revenue-rich Big Ten Network. The sport is a hefty business.

And the words “amateur” and “business” are rarely uttered in the same sentence.

College football knows what it wants to be. It wants to be the NFL, where there is an entertainment price tag placed on everything fan-related. From television coverage to high-scoring spread offenses and everything in between, the goal of collegiate football bigwigs is to keep the fans happy and keep them coming back. But, for whatever reason, college football won’t admit they want to be just like its big brother.

Even though they’ve already started acting like him.

Paying Players: Legitimate vs. Entitlement

This was a stark indicator that college football wanted to evolve and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, of all people, got the conversation rolling. Should conferences that have the means to pay their players beyond what their athletic scholarship dishes out do so? Delany admitted that the proposal was not about creating a level playing field, but rather looking out for the best interest of the student-athlete in his conference.

Ironically, Delany argued that paying players more — a very non-amateur move — would help cover the total cost of being a college student – a very amateur ideal.

There are issues, to be sure. If universities begin paying athletes in revenue-producing sports such as football and men’s basketball, they will have to pay every student-athlete who participates in a university-sponsored sport. After all, and by Delany’s own logic, the purpose is to help with the total cost of college and the girls who play women’s tennis are no less a college student than the star player of the football team.

In some instances, they may be more so.

But where does the line between legitimate needs and entitlement get drawn?

When a football player signs a National Letter of Intent, they agree to forfeit a normal college experience and dedicate an astronomical amount of time to playing the game and going to school (or, just playing the game). Getting a job on the side, while not impossible, is practically unheard of. Many would argue that playing football is the athlete’s job. It certainly brings millions of dollars directly for the betterment of the university.

If a player wants a portion of that revenue, does that really make him an entitled person? I believe that’s a different question than asking “are there entitled football players?” to which the answer is unequivocally “yes”.

College football has already made several moves to de-amateurize the sport. While paying players extra money presents larger concerns, refusing to do so embraces an outdated philosophy in a new-age industry ruled by bottom line agendas.

(Im)proper benefits

Just about everything seems to be identified an impermissible benefit, and frankly, it’s getting old. That’s not to say the events at places like USC are acceptable  — they’re not — but punishing a kid for selling memorabilia that’s rightfully his is downright asinine.

The incidents involving Ohio State players receiving impermissible benefits have taken more twists and turns over the past year than all of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies put together. For Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, it’s been especially turbulent. If rumors that Pryor banked upward of $40,000 for signing autographs turn out to be true, the NCAA rulebook might spontaneously combust. Pryor, as a result, appears to be getting the hell out of Dodge and moving on from Columbus.

And, no, we still haven’t forgotten about former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. The NCAA’s investigation of Newton and his father, Cecil, was based around finding this unattainable “money trail” after Newton’s father reportedly admitted he solicited money from schools for his son’s talents. That solicitation alone would be a violation of NCAA Bylaws, but somehow, Cam’s eligibility remained intact because he was “unaware” that this whole deal was going on.

Yes, there are rules and they must be abided by. And that’s the problem. In no way am I condoning the allegations against Pryor or Newton, but the “do as I say, not as I do” attitude of college football is nauseating. The sport continues to make business decisions on a day-to-day basis, yet refuses to accept the idea that their players could do the same.

Memorabilia sales, alcohol sales and rising ticket prices — they’re all used to put a little more dough in the back pocket of athletic departments and schools like Texas, Penn State and Alabama do it better than anybody.

There are lots of financial benefits to college football. Who gets a portion of that pie is a selective process. I’m not sure paying players would stop players from receiving impermissible benefits, but removing the amateur title from them would.

This is the End

As a famous episode of “Seinfeld” once accused, “You just double-dipped your chip!”

College football double dips in amateurism and professionalism. More than it should. It acts like the NFL, but refuses to admit it. Like an adult, it does its best to get the most lucrative business deal available. Yet, like a child, it clamps on to the leg of amateurism, hoping that if they close their eyes and pretend real hard, the truth that sport is changing will go away.

Strangely enough, it’s the players who are affected the most from that immaturity.

There is no more “going to”. College football has changed, for better or for worse. If nothing else, the sport can’t go in reverse — it can’t get “more” amateur-ish. And when things change, those affected must evolve. For the sport, that may include paying players, or allowing them to make their own source of income.

But college football is dragging its feet. Why? I don’t know; the change has already come, and with every NCAA investigation or notice of allegations, the sport further self-inflicts wounds that prevent it from being what it really wants to be.

And you don’t have to know what you are to know what you want to be.

Ohio State starting RB still dealing with hamstring injury but expects to play in opener

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Ohio State’s newish looking offense is expected to lean on the ground game early in 2017 but a key cog in that machinery might not be 100 percent healthy heading into the Buckeyes’ opener against Indiana.

Starting tailback Mike Weber has dealt with a lingering hamstring injury he suffered over the summer and hasn’t participated at all in the team’s preseason camp. Despite that bit of concerning news, it seems both the running back and the coaching staff is expecting him to be good to go in less than two weeks when the team kicks off the 2017 campaign.

“I’m getting close,” Weber said Friday, according to Cleveland.com. “They’ve been holding me back all camp to make sure I don’t have problems with it during the season. … I talk to the trainer a lot and it’s looking pretty good. I’m not at full speed yet, but I’m going to get there and I should be ready for the first game.”

Weber rushed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns last year as a redshirt freshman and will see an increased load carrying the ball with Curtis Samuel off to the NFL. True freshman J.K. Dobbins has apparently slid into the backup role but running backs coach Tony Alford told reporters that the starting job is Weber’s when it comes time to go against the Hoosiers.

We’ll see if that eventually holds up given how finicky hamstring injuries are for tailbacks but at least the prognosis is good enough that Buckeyes fans can breathe a little easier as camp winds down in Columbus.

VIDEO: Indiana hands scholarship to walk-on WR after singing school fight song

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Some training camp traditions are better than others but one universal truth every fall is that coaches will bring up players to sing the school fight song in front of the team. As you can expect, often times hilarity ensues because players either don’t know the words or are so off-key with the notes that you can barely recognize what they’re singing.

Indiana coach Tom Allen joined in on the act this week by putting a few players through the same paces by having them belt out the lyrics to ‘Indiana Fight’ in front of both the team and cameras. The school naturally released video of the event on Friday, including a very special message at the end for one of the players signing:

That would be now-former walk-on Luke Timian, a projected starter this season who received a brand new scholarship from the Hoosiers and was mobbed by his teammates after the message flashed on the screens. The junior was involved in every game last year for Indiana and caught 19 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown.

As cool as the unveil was for Timian though, it’s a good thing he’s now a scholarship player at IU because it seems pretty clear that American Idol is not in the kid’s future. We’re all still suckers for videos of coaches handing out scholarships to walk-ons though and this is certainly one of the more unique ways to let a player know the school is picking up the check this semester.

Alabama reportedly in talks to play Miami in 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game

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Mark Richt may no longer be in the SEC but he still might have to go toe-to-toe with Nick Saban one more time in Atlanta.

The Tuscaloosa News is reporting that Alabama is in negotiations to return to Atlanta for the 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and play none other than Miami for a compelling matchup between two powerhouse programs and do quite a bit to stir up nostalgia for some of a different era in college football. As is the case for the future high-profile season openers as part of the series, the contest is set to be played at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is nothing new for the Crimson Tide, as they open this year against Florida State in Week 1 and are scheduled to return to Atlanta in 2019 to take on Duke as well. The school has typically opened their season in such high-profile neutral site games but don’t have anything on the books for such a matchup starting in 2020.

Miami is also coming around to the idea of starting out the year at a big time NFL stadium for their opener and have set dates at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (against LSU) for 2018 and against in-state rival Florida in Orlando for the 2019 campaign. Adding Alabama to the slate in 2021 will just about lock up their non-conference schedule for that year, with home games against Appalachian State and Michigan State also on the docket.

Should the series eventually be confirmed (and there’s little reason to think it won’t), it will certainly be a welcome clash between two national title-winning programs. The pair last met on the field in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, when No. 2 Alabama topped No. 1 Miami 34-13 to deliver Gene Stallings and the Tide a national championship. The two current head coaches also have a bit of a history playing against each other when Richt was coaching at Georgia and staged a thrilling SEC title game in Atlanta back in 2012 that eventually sent the Tide on their way to another championship.

Hopefully everybody is still around when the time comes in 2021 because matchups like Miami and Alabama don’t seem to happen all that often.

Phone records show Hugh Freeze had over 200 calls with Ole Miss booster in NCAA case

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When Hugh Freeze was fired last month by Ole Miss, most thought that the troubling patterns the school discovered were mostly focused on the coach’s calls to what were later revealed to be escort services. As it turns out, that may not be the extent of the cell phone records that landed the coach in hot water.

USA Today dug a little deeper in Freeze’s phone calls and discovered that he had at least 200 conversations with Lee Harris, a now-disassociated booster at the school who is a central figure in the ongoing NCAA case surrounding extra benefits for recruits and players. Per the report:

“The phone calls included the period in which Harris became a part of the NCAA’s investigation into Ole Miss and continued before and after his interview with the NCAA on Nov. 16, 2016, in which he provided information that was determined to be false.

Freeze was not named or deemed culpable in the specific NCAA allegation related to Harris, and it is not publicly known what the two men discussed in the calls. According to Freeze’s attorney, W.G. Watkins, Freeze and Harris met by “happenstance” sitting next to each other at church at some point after Harris’ alleged violations occurred, formed a relationship and played golf together. Watkins said Freeze never discussed the NCAA case with Harris, which would potentially be a violation of bylaw 10.1 relating to unethical conduct.”

Harris was one of several boosters included in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations against the Rebels and was alleged by enforcement staffers to have provided free food and cash to linebacker Leo Lewis when he was being recruited by Ole Miss. Lewis eventually signed with in-state rival Mississippi State and later provided information to investigators as part of the case.

Though the phone calls are hardly a smoking gun for either Freeze or the school, the sheer volume of calls between the head coach and a booster who is alleged to have committed NCAA violations certainly raises a big eyebrow in Indianapolis and around the rest of the SEC. The fact that the calls took place on the coach’s cell phone also raises the question as to just how closely school compliance staff was monitoring their coach and whether he attempted to influence the investigation in any way by speaking about it with Harris.

Such points are bound to come up and need clear answers when Ole Miss goes in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions for a hearing scheduled for Sept. 11th.