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


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.

LSU AD: ‘Les Miles is our coach and will continue to be our coach’

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers celebrates after defeating the Texas A&M Aggies 19-7 at Tiger Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Never mind people.  Move on.  There’s nothing to see here.

After a couple of weeks worth of speculation it appeared as if today’s game against Texas A&M would be Les Miles‘ last as LSU’s head coach.  There were at least two reports, though, that indicated a win would go a long way in helping to save Miles’ job.

With a 19-7 victory over the Aggies in the books, all eyes turned toward Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva.  And, in one fell swoop, the A.D. did something that could’ve been done a week or more ago instead of leaving his long-time head coach out to dry — he came out and publicly announced that Miles will remain on as the program’s head football coach.

“I ant to make it clear that Les Miles is our football coach and will continue to be our football coach,” Alleva stated. “My policy is to wait until the end of the season, and obviously it’s the end of the regular season right now.”

Certainly there’s more back-channel intrigue simmering just below and will likely surface in the coming days and weeks, but Miles will remain at LSU for the foreseeable future.  And with a seemingly weakened boss for good measure while his own personal profile among the fan base and his players — and some boosters, who haven’t appreciated how he’s been treated — has done nothing but grow stronger.

Simply put, it’d be hard to find a way to screw up a non-firing firing more than LSU just did.  And the worst thing about it for the university, it’s done nothing but embolden Miles and his supporters, making it potentially even harder to get rid of him if/when they actually do want to pull the trigger.

The speculation has already begun that Alleva’s job is on the line.  Here’s to guessing that his head likely won’t be the only one to roll because of how mismanaged the situation became.

Oklahoma makes playoff statement on behalf of Big 12

Dimitri Flowers, Trace Clark

If Oklahoma had anything to say about it Saturday night in Stillwater, the Big 12 is not in danger of missing out on the College Football Playoff this year. The No. 3 Sooners (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) locked up the outright Big 12 championship with a 58-23 victory over No. 11 Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) to close out regular season play. The ball is now in the playoff selection committee’s court. There is no way Oklahoma should not be in the top four when the final playoff rankings are updated after next weekend’s conference championship games.

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 17 of 25 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, but the Sooners offense was a two-man show between running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. The two each rushed for over 130 yards (136 yards for Mixon, 131 for Perine) and each scored two rushing touchdowns. Mayfield also got involved running the football, taking off for 77 yards and a touchdown of his own. Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh got the start at quarterback with Mason Rudolph banged up. Walsh passed for 325 yards and two touchdowns, but that was mostly while the Cowboys were attempting to catch up in the second half.

Oklahoma finished its season with the three best consecutive wins any College Football Playoff contender or participant likely will have played with wins over ranked opponents Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State. Two of those wins were on the road too. The Big 12’s back loaded scheduled needed one team to rise up and prove worthy of playoff hype, and Oklahoma turned out to be that team. Throw in a nice road win earlier in the season at Tennessee, and Oklahoma’s overall body of work is solid, perhaps even more so than that of Alabama’s. Michigan State could prove to be a different argument, as the Spartans could have road wins at Michigan and Ohio State to go with a win against Oregon and an undefeated Iowa if Michigan State wins the Big Ten Championship Game next week.

Oklahoma’s fate as the Big 12’s playoff hope was further cemented with Notre Dame falling out of the running with a close loss at Stanford. It is not likely Oklahoma would be at risk of dropping behind Stanford as a two-loss Pac-12 champion. Oklahoma would have the edge, even if Stanford blasted USC 59-0 next week in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Sooners will be a solid lock for one of the top four spots in the playoff, and may have a chance to wiggle up the rankings while not playing a game. Whatever the case, the Big 12 will be sending its one true champion to the playoff fun, once again showing the conference is not in need of expansion or a conference championship game. Some years it will work out, some years it will not. Such will be life in the Big 12.

Oklahoma will be fine with that.

Dalvin Cook, defense lead No. 13 Florida State to pounding of No. 12 Gators

Dalvin Cook, Justin Simmons, John Johnson

Keeping Florida State running back Dalvin Cook contained is no easy task, but Florida managed to do that for much of the night. But as many previous opponents can confirm, Cook is bound to make a spectacular play. He did just that with a run right up the middle of the defense and powered his way into the end zone in the fourth quarter of No. 13 Florida State’s (10-2) 27-2 victory over No. 12 Florida (10-2).

Cook scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the win, including one in the final minutes that served as the cherry on top of the sundae for the Seminoles. With 183 rushing yards, Cook ended his season with one last solid performance to merit discussion about a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy, although this one got off to a slow start by comparison as Florida’s defense was as good as it could be for a while. Florida State’s defense was also clicking on all cylinders in this one, holding the Gators to just 262 yards of offense. As Florida prepares to play for the SEC championship next week against Alabama, after this performance against the Seminoles and last week’s effort against FAU, there should be some serious concerns about Florida’s ability to do anything on offense that will challenge Alabama.

To be fair, Florida’s defense really was pretty good, although the final score may not suggest so. Cook’s two fourth quarter touchdowns turned a defensive battle into a bit more of a blowout than it really was for the majority of the night. Florida held Florida State to just two third-down conversions out of 13 and 304 yards of offense.

The win for the Seminoles clinched a fourth straight season with double-digit victories. Florida State may not be playing for an ACC title (Clemson will be facing North Carolina next week in Charlotte), but Florida State has not had four straight 10-win seasons since the height of the Bobby Bowden era from 1987 through 2000. Under Jimbo Fisher, Florida State has won at least 10 games in all but one season (2011). With that kind of track record it is easy to see why LSU, hypothetically, would be interested in Fisher as a possible successor to Les Miles, but Fisher says he is not leaving Tallahassee.

Florida State looked to be on track to pitch its first shutout of the Gators in the history of the series, but all of that changed in spectacular fashion. Sean Maguire had a ball knocked out of his hand as he was attempting to pass by Cece Jefferson. The ball wiggled loose and was not easy for anyone to pounce on. After a mad scramble for the ball 25 yards back from the line of scrimmage, it was Maguire who finally landed on it in the endzone for a safety, giving Florida two points. Florida looked to have a great return by Valdez Showers on the free kick return, but an illegal block in the back took the ball all the way back to Florida’s 14-yard line.

Florida State has now won three in a row against the Gators for the first time since stringing together three straight wins from 1998 through 2000. The win also marks Florida State’s third straight win in The Swamp, the first time Florida State has done that in the history of the rivalry.

Stanford keeps faint playoff hopes alive, extinguishes Irish’s in last-second win

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Devon Cajuste #89 of the Stanford Cardinal catches the ball while covered by Cole Luke #36 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Stanford Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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For both Notre Dame and Stanford, tonight’s game down on The Farm was one that each needed to keep any playoff hopes that they entertained alive.  In the end, it’s the latter that holds the lone remaining hope for the rivalry.

With both teams throwing punches on either side of the ball, it was the Cardinal that was able to withstand the body blows and leave Foster Field with a thrilling 38-36 win.  It wasn’t looking that way, though, after DeShone Kizer led the Irish on an epic 88-yard drive that was capped by his two-yard touchdown run with :30 left and gave the visitors a 36-35 lead.

Kevin Hogan, playing his last home game as a member of the Cardinal, proceeded to ensure he left one more indelible mark in the program’s history books.  Taking over at their own 28-yard line, a face-mask penalty on the Irish moved the ball out to the 43-yard line with :15 left.  An incomplete pass on first down was followed by the play of the game, a 27-yard Hogan-to-Devon Cajuste that put the Cardinal in field goal range; a Christian McCaffrey two-yard run positioned the Cardinal for a 45-yard field goal attempt, which Conrad Ukropina absolutely piped with no time left for the 36-35 win.

Hogan was superb throughout the night, finishing with 269 yards and four touchdown passes on 17-of-21 passing in a back-and-forth affair that saw the lead change six times.  The Irish had a pair of 100-yard runners, with Josh Adams leading the way with 168 and Kizer contributing 128.

The win improves Stanford to 10-2, and sends them into the Pac-12 championship game against USC with hopes of a playoff berth still intact, however faint they may be.  Even if the Cardinal can take down the Trojans, they would still need significant upheaval ahead of them — think Clemson, Iowa and Alabama losing their title games — in order to even begin any type of realistic playoff talk.

But still…

For Notre Dame, it’s their second loss of the season and, with no championship game to leave another impression on the committee, it appears their playoff hopes have been officially dashed.  Still, given the myriad injuries with which the Domers have had to deal, it’s a minor miracle that they were even in the playoff discussion this late in the season, and a testament to Brian Kelly and his coaching staff.