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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.

Former East Carolina WR Jason Nichols returns to alma mater as RBs coach

GREENVILLE, NC - OCTOBER 04:  Justin Hardy #2 and Anthony Scott #3 of the East Carolina Pirates celebrate after Scott's touchdown against the Southern Methodist Mustangs during their game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on October 4, 2014 in Greenville, North Carolina. East Carolina won 45-24. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Once upon a time, Jason Nichols was a school-record holding receiver at East Carolina. On Tuesday, he officially returned to campus — as running backs coach.

“Not only does Jason bring a wealth of coaching experience to East Carolina, he knows first-hand of the special bond that exists between Pirate Nation and our program,” head coach Scottie Montgomery said in a statement. “To have the opportunity to impact young men on the same campus and playing field where he earned his degree and competed is immeasurable. From a recruiting standpoint, I’m not sure if there’s anyone else who could tell a more compelling story of what it means to be a Pirate.”

After leaving East Carolina in 1998, Nichols deposited a couple years in the CFL and Arena Football League before returning to campus as a graduate assistant in 2001.

From there, Nichols went on to coach wide receivers at Sacred Heart, Appalachian State, Toledo, Louisiana-Monroe and, in 2016, at Western Carolina.

Nichols takes over a running game that finished 110th nationally at 132.4 yards per game and 101st in FBS at 3.93 yards per carry. The Pirates’ leading returning rusher stands as rising senior Anthony Scott, who carried 79 times for 384 yards and two touchdowns in eight appearances.

Virginia AD Craig Littlepage returns to work full-time for first time in four months

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - NOVEMBER 26:  Kris Burd (R) #18 of the Virginia Cavaliers is greeted by Craig Littlepage (L), director of athletics for the University of Virginia, during Senior Day festivities prior to the Cavaliers' game against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Scott Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)
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Virginia athletics director Craig Littlepage has been on a quasi-sabbatical for the past four months, but that period is now over.

Littlepage announced in late October he would work on an “adjusted” schedule through Jan. 2 to attend to personal matters involving a family member. January eventually turned into February, but the school announced Monday Littlepage is now back at work on a full-time basis.

Executive associate AD Jon Oliver served as the Cavs’ acting AD during Littlepage’s absence.

“I would like to thank the University administration, our student-athletes, coaches, staff and especially Jon Oliver for their support and hard work while I was away,” Littlepage said in a statement. “It’s great to be back and I look forward to a successful and productive spring semester for Virginia Athletics.”

Nick Saban hosts meeting with Mark Zuckerberg

MENLO PARK, CA - APRIL 04:  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during an event at Facebook headquarters on April 4, 2013 in Menlo Park, California. Zuckerberg announced a new product for Android called Facebook Home.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Mark Zuckerberg is in the midst of a self-guided tour of America, and on Tuesday his travels took him to Tuscaloosa. And when you’re Mark Zuckerberg visiting Tuscaloosa, you have to go see The King.

Nick Saban hosted the Facebook founder and his wife, Priscilla Chan, at the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility for a chat on leadership, Saban said. “I just met with Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook guy,” Saban told a luncheon in nearby Hoover, Ala., according to AL.com. “He wanted to know about leadership, and what do you do to affect people.

“It was kind of interesting that he saw the spirit that we have in this state relative to supporting athletics as something that is very special, very unique, and very wholesome in terms of people having the opportunity to create hope whether it’s in competition, or something they believe in or a spirit.”

Wrote Zuckerberg:

We stopped by the University of Alabama and sat down with Coach Saban. We talked about what it takes to build a world class football organization. Many of the same things go into building a good company and a winning football program — a focus on recruiting, developing talent and setting high expectations.

We also got lunch with some of the Alabama Football players who come from all over the country to be part of this program. We talked about about the pressures of being a student athlete — not only the personal pressure of achieving their goals of making it to the NFL, but also having the hopes of their community ride of their success.

We all need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Communities can form around all kinds of things — churches, schools, teams — and it’s clear that for a lot of folks in Alabama, college football is an important part of their community.

It’s hard to imagine a meeting of two people with a greater mastery of their respective fields that have absolutely zero knowledge in the other’s field. But it does create an interesting hypothetical prop bet: Who could give a longer seminar: Saban on the mechanics of coding, or Zuckerberg on the basic tenants of the 3-4?

Michigan reportedly adds ex-Vikings QBs coach as offensive analyst

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Jim Harbaugh has added more experience and another “name” to his Michigan football staff.

According to NFL.com‘s Albert Breer, Harbaugh has hired Scott Turner as an offensive analyst.  Harbaugh’s nine-man on-field coaching staff is already full, but Turner could be in line to join that group if/when the NCAA approves a 10th assistant.

Turner, the son of former Washington, Oakland and San Diego head coach Norv Turner, spent the past three seasons as the quarterbacks coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

Turner has spent the past six seasons in the NFL.  His last job at the collegiate level came as the wide receivers coach at Pittsburgh in 2010.

It was previously reported that Harbaugh had, controversially in the eyes of some, hired former NFL offensive coordinator Michael Johnson Sr. to an undetermined off-field position.  Johnson, the father of the top-rated dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2019, ultimately took an on-field job at Oregon.