Memo to NCAA: it’s beyond time to address the ESPN/Texas relationship

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In  January of this year, ESPN and the University of Texas announced the official creation of what would come to be called the Longhorn Network, an endeavor that would initially entitle UT to an estimated $300 million over 20 years from the WWL.

For that money, ESPN would also provide a reported $400 million in production value in exchange for content that ranged from one or two UT football games a year to basketball to Olympic sports to “non-athletic fare like musical performances, plays, and documentaries by faculty members and students” to high school football games in the state of Texas to… wait… what?  Televising potential football recruits on a television network dedicated to a single university?  Yeah, some individuals who would be impacted by that development took issue with the prep aspect of things.

“I can’t speak for the NCAA, but I would imagine the governing body will look into the use of a collegiate television network airing games of prospective student-athletes,” Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said a week after UT made their announcement. “I understand networks such as FSN and ESPN airing high school sports, but whether or not employees under contract with a university that may have additional contact would seem to be an issue.”

Unbelievably, this high school issue as it relates to the Longhorn Network is still in play, and even more unbelievably a vice president of programming from ESPN has found the gall/balls to trumpet the high school aspect of the arrangement with the University of Texas in an on-air, on-the-record interview with an Austin radio station.  SportsByBrooks.com — follow him @SPORTSbyBROOKS if you’re into the Twitter thing — has a partial transcript of ESPN Programming VP Dave Brown‘s interview on KZNX-FM conducted last month.  And, to say the least, the hubris of the high-ranking WWL official is astounding:

“We’re going to follow the great [high school] players in the state. Obviously a kid like [unsigned Texas verbal commit] Jonathan Gray. I know people [Longhorn Network subscribers] are going to want to see Jonathan Gray, I can’t wait to see Jonathan Gray.

“Feedback from our audience is they just want to see Jonathan Gray run whether it’s 45-0 or not, they want to see more Jonathan Gray. So we’re going to do our best to accommodate them [Longhorn Network subscribers] and follow the kids who are being recruited by a lot of the Division I schools. Certainly some of the kids Texas has recruited and is recruiting and everyone else the Big 12 is recruiting.

“One other thing, you may see us, I know there’s a kid [unsigned Texas verbal commit] Connor Brewer from Chapparal high school in Arizona. We may try to get on one or two of their games as well so people [Longhorn Network subscribers] can see an incoming quarterback that’ll be part of the scene in Austin.

In summation, a VP of the company that’s involved in a business relationship with a university is openly proclaiming the virtues of top recruits who have yet to sign Letters of Intent and how good they would look on the network and OMG I can’t wait to see Jonathan Gray LOL  smh.

The fact that the high school football talk has gone on unfettered for the better part of six months with nary a public response/rebuke from the NCAA is unimaginable.  The fact that ESPN is very publicly braying about high school prospects is unconscionable — but not nearly as unconscionable as the NCAA allowing this discussion half a year after it should’ve been shutdown to continue on.  And even as the director of UT athletics brazenly espouses “a first-class way, in the light of day, and we will do it the right way” tack of dealing with the Longhorn Network televising high school football games.

And, if the NCAA decides to continue sitting on its hands when it comes to the UT/ESPN/high school football relationship?  The Association needs to never again bring sanctions against any Div. 1-A football program for “recruiting violations”.  Simply put, if televising potential in-state — and specifically targeted out-of-state — recruits on your own television network is not a violation, how could The Association ever again look any school in the eyes in the future and accuse them of doing something illicit in gaining an advantage in recruiting?

This is an interesting precipice on which the NCAA is currently standing.  One way or the other, and for better or worse, their next move will be fascinating to watch.

Texas LB Malik Jefferson’s status for bowl game still up in the air

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As Texas prepares to play in the Texas Bowl against former Big 12 foe Missouri, it remains unknown whether or not linebacker Malik Jefferson will play.

Jefferson was reportedly diagnosed with a case of turf toe recently and is said to be considered day-to-day. Nick Moyle of the San Antonio Express-News reported the medical update via Twitter, and he also notes Jefferson still has not made a definitive decision on whether to leave for the NFL or not.

Jefferson would be considered a solid draft pick option at linebacker in the event he decides to leave Texas a year early to pursue a chance to play in the NFL. How this injury might impact that decision is nothing but speculation. However, players deciding to take to the NFL Draft the following spring have increasingly made the trendy decision to forgo their senior season and skip the bowl game when injuries play a factor. If Jefferson is to go to the NFL, it would not be a stunner to see him decide to skip out on the bowl game as well.

Jefferson is Texas’ leader in tackles this season with 110, including 79 solo tackles.

Lane Kiffin’s biggest recruit to FAU may be Snoop Dogg

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There is no denying the allegiance Snoop Dogg has for his beloved USC Trojans, but Lane Kiffin has managed to find some room in Snoop’s rooting interests to bring him aboard the Lane Train. With Kiffin preparing FAU for their upcoming bowl game in the Boa Raton Bowl this week, Kiffin managed to bring Snoop Dogg and Luther Campbell out to a practice.

Campbell, of course, is a Miami fan, but FAU has become a bit of a popular secondary team with Kiffin to lead the charge. Getting Uncle Luke to suit up in FAU gear and pose for a picture with Snoop Dogg deserves an automatic retweet of Kiffin’s account on Twitter.

Kiffin coached FAU to the Conference USA championship in his first season as the head coach of the Owls. With a good blend of JUCO transfers and new offensive mindset, FAU soared under Kiffin as he rebuilt his coaching pedigree. Kiffin remains one of the names to watch in the coaching carousel, although this year’s cycle may have gone through the motions without Kiffin getting a chance somewhere else. But if Kiffin is successful in Year 2, the Lane Train may be leaving the Boca Raton station for another destination soon enough.

Middle Tennessee holds on to win the bizarre (and turnover-filled) Camellia Bowl over Arkansas State

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Middle Tennessee State entered the Camellia Bowl 121st in the country in turnover margin and had lost the battle in nine of their 12 games this season. Arkansas State was only a little bit better in the same category, ranking 81st in turnover margin in 2017. Predictably those kinds of statistics came into play on Saturday night in the Camellia Bowl as the two sides played a bit of hot potato — six giveaways — before MTSU hung on for a 35-30 win to cap off the first day of bowl season in college football.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill had a game that could have been a nightmare for a veteran quarterback but ended up being alright thanks to his defense continually picking him on a night where chunk plays were hard to come by. The signal-caller threw the first of his three interceptions on the night on the first drive of the game but bounced back over the final three quarters, throwing for 232 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. That kind of performance, which included several big throws in the second half, helped secure the first bowl victory of his career and give him the rare distinction of being able to win a postseason game with his father Rick as head coach.

It wasn’t all about the Stockstill combo for MTSU however as their run game produced a pair of touchdowns behind tailbacks Terelle West and Tavares Thomas, and the team’s defense had one of their best outings of the season to limit the Sun Belt’s highest scoring offense to well below all their season averages. Linebacker Darius Harris led the way when his unit was on the field, flying from sideline-to-sideline and racking up 12 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a two pass break ups. His running mate at linebacker, D.J. Sanders, was equally productive with seven tackles and a 54 yard fumble return for a touchdown just before halftime.

The Red Wolves did what they could to threaten to make things interesting down the stretch but never could get over the hill. The team ran a fake punt to open fourth quarter, resulting in a 21 yard strike from the punter to gunner Chris Murray along the sidelines and appeared to seize momentum after a subsequent  touchdown to Warren Wand. However the defense failed to get a stop and then Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Justice Hansen (337 yards, 3TD, 1 INT) threw a fourth down pass out of the end zone to all but seal a rather lackluster loss for a team that had won six of the last eight coming into the bowl.

Arkansas State also came up a bit short in the record books on the defensive side of the ball as well. In addition to allowing 35 points to MTSU, conference player of the year Ja’Von Rolland-Jones failed to record a sack and thus couldn’t break the NCAA career record (held by former Arizona State and current Baltimore Ravens star Terrell Suggs) of 44 career sacks after entering the game just shy of the mark with 43.5. While the pass rusher did manage to sack Stockstill in the game, the play was negated by a penalty to keep him from taking over on the all-time list.

The victory pushed Middle Tennessee over the .500 mark for the fifth time in six seasons and likely meant a little bit more to the program given how many key injuries the team suffered over the course of 2017 before capturing their first bowl win in eight years. Arkansas State did their best to prevent that from happening as they dropped to 7-5 on the season after a rather bizarre Camellia Bowl that had a little bit of everything.

Defense comes up big to help Middle Tennessee grab Camellia Bowl lead at halftime over Arkansas State

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Middle Tennessee State started off the Camellia Bowl on Saturday night in about the worst way possible with a pair of first quarter interceptions but leaned heavily on their stout defense to manage their way to a 21-10 lead over Arkansas State at halftime in a somewhat low-scoring affair few could have seen coming between these high-scoring offenses.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill tossed an interception on the team’s opening drive of the game but managed to bounce back and throw for  80 yards and a touchdown after another slow start for the veteran signal-caller. Luckily the team’s defense pitched a goal line stand after his first pick and proved to be similarly stout after his second to keep the team in things after such a rough start against the Sun Belt power.

Mistakes proved to be costly for the Red Wolves throughout the night on both sides of the ball as a roughing the punter ruined a potential stop early and led to MTSU tailback Terelle West running right off his left guard for a 45 yard touchdown and a quick lead for the Conference USA squad who wasn’t doing much to move the ball outside of that big play.

The wildest sequence of the bowl season (so far) happened in the closing minutes of the first quarter however, leaving fans, officials and coaches all confused at what exactly just happened. Stockstill appeared to find a receiver over the middle and on the door step of the end zone but ASU’s Justin Clifton had other ideas — stripping the ball and appearing to run it back (with help) for a touchdown. The call went through a lengthy review process that wound up giving Clifton an interception and his offense the ball back at their 18 yard line instead but they ended up punting it away for 61 yards to cap off a truly bizarre few minutes.

Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen had some decent numbers (151 yards passing, one rushing TD) but things just weren’t clicking for what had been the Sun Belt’s most prolific offense during the regular season. The signal-caller fumbled shortly before halftime, which allowed D.J. Sanders to rumble 54 yards with a fumble recovery touchdown that extended MTSU’s lead. The Red Wolves did manage to mount a scoring drive on the next possession to get right back in the game but they’ll need to show more down the stretch if they want to reach the eight win mark for the sixth time in seven seasons.

It’s had a few strange moments but the conclusion to the first Saturday of the bowl season is shaping up rather nicely down in Montgomery, Alabama. However both sides in this one will be sure to focus on correcting a bunch of mistakes after that somewhat whacky first half.