Nuclear Explosion

Is a Miami death penalty the NCAA’s only option?

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Roughly 16 years after SMU was hit with the infamous “death penalty” that crippled their football program for nearly a quarter of a century, then-Florida president John Lombardi said that the NCAA would do anything it could going forward to avoid sentencing another school to a similar fate.

“SMU taught the committee that the death penalty is too much like the nuclear bomb,” Lombardi said in 2002. “It’s like what happened after we dropped the [atomic] bomb in World War II. The results were so catastrophic that now we’ll do anything to avoid dropping another one.”

A decade later, thanks to an explosive exposé by Yahoo! sports, the nuclear option appears to be back on the table, and it could force the NCAA to play the football version of Harry Truman once again.

The level of malfeasance alleged in the investigative piece by convicted felon Nevin Shapiro is truly staggering and is only rivaled in recent times by the infamous SMU scandal, when the Mustangs were Pony Express’d back to the football dark ages in the mid-eighties.  Shapiro, who once had a players lounge named in his honor at the Coral Gables school, alleges he gave impermissible benefits that by his estimation totaled in the millions and millions of dollars to more than five dozen Hurricane football players — including a dozen current ones — over an eight-year period beginning in 2001.

Cash, prostitutes, jewelry, clothing, electronics, yachts, mansions, strip club junkets and, in one instance, an abortion.  You name it, Shapiro alleges he provided it for many, many a Hurricane player.

Perhaps most damning is the Yahoo! report claims four former football assistants as well as three football support staff members had direct knowledge of or participated in the violating of multiple NCAA rules, including sending high school recruits to Shapiro’s multi-million dollar mansion or accompanying Shapiro and recruits to strip clubs.  Shapiro’s physical confrontation with UM’s head of compliance in the press box of a 2007 game wrought a background check by the university, which revealed he was the co-owner of a sports representation agency.  Still, the university did nothing.

Juxtapose those Miami allegations against the SMU case two-and-a-half-decades ago and, more recently, USC.

Already banned from bowl games in 1985 and 1986 as well as any television appearances for the latter year due to recruiting violations committed by boosters and at least one assistant, SMU was found in 1986 by the NCAA to have created a slush fund — which paid football players upwards of $700 a month — that was controlled by a booster and sanctioned by officials from the athletic department all the way through the school’s Board of Governors.  For that, the NCAA canceled the Mustangs 1987 season — the school canceled the 1988 season as well due to lack of players — banned the school from bowl games and television appearances through the 1989 season, as well as stripping them of nearly 60 football scholarships over a four-year period.

At first blush, the situation in Miami appears to be the work of a lone rogue booster who inexplicably flew underneath the school’s radar — allegedly — for eight years.  SMU’s case was an organized, systematic pay-for-play scandal involving multiple layers of individuals both inside the athletic department and out, even bleeding into the political arena.

Is that enough of a difference to keep the NCAA from pressing the nuclear button and leveling The U football program?

If it’s looked at through a prism of blacks and whites, the allegations leveled against Miami are the worst to hit major college football since SMU in the mid-eighties and would appear to deserve something that approaches the same level of sanctions.  As the NCAA has shown since slapping near-historic sanctions on USC, though, the NCAA seems to work with varying shades of gray that only they can see.  And comprehend.

To illustrate that very point, the Trojans were stripped of 30 scholarships over a three-year period and banned from appearing in bowl games for two after the NCAA found one player — Reggie Bush — and/or his family had received in the neighborhood of $300,000 from two would-be sports marketers/felons while he was a running back at the school.  One USC assistant — not four as alleged in the Yahoo! Miami piece, or multiple members of the institution as found in the SMU case — and one two-minute phone conversation led to the sanctions that have set the Trojans football program back at least a couple of years if not more.

After handing the Trojans some of the stiffest sanctions since SMU was obliterated from the football map, Paul Dee, chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, said the following when it comes to a school’s responsibility for dealing with outside influences on student-athletes:

“The real issue here is if you have high‑profile players, your enforcement staff has to monitor those students at a higher level. It’s extraordinarily important that the people that are likely to be receiving these kinds of interactions from people outside the institution are also those same people who are going to provide a reward somewhere down the road. So high‑profile players demand high‑profile compliance.”

Dee was the athletic director at the University of Miami during the time Shapiro was allegedly lavishing his student-athletes with gifts, cash and services.

Regardless of whether it’s too much like the nuclear bomb, and the catastrophic results Lombardi referred to be damned, the NCAA needs to drop another one on the Miami football program if they have any real desire to truly change the culture as they’ve openly professed in recent months.  What would that entail when it comes to the ‘Canes?  Miami’s situation — if the allegations are proven, it should be noted — would seem to fall somewhere between SMU and USC, but leaning decidedly toward the former side in terms of severity.

Leaning enough to warrant sanctions similar to what SMU received?  Certainly this trumps Bush’s financial masterpiece, setting the bar for sanctions to come in somewhere well above what USC received.  If that involves something close to the death penalty, so be it; at some point, there have to be significant repercussions for programs that don’t demand high-profile compliance for high-profile players.

One way or the other, though, the NCAA needs to take their hands out from under their backsides and show that what they’re spewing publicly aren’t merely words lacking any kind of meaningful action behind them.  One SMU is too many.  Two of them calls for a significant change to the structure of collegiate athletics.

And a sweeping change to the hypocrisy that Dee’s involvement on both sides fully displays.

Barry J. Sanders confirms he’s moving from Stanford to Okla. St. as grad transfer

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Running back Barry Sanders #26 of the Stanford Cardinal rushes against the Washington State Cougars on September 28, 2013 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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A move that has been two months in the making has been confirmed by one of the principles involved.

In an interview with The Oklahoman, Barry J. Sanders confirmed that he will be transferring into the Oklahoma State football program and playing his final season of college football with the Cowboys.  Sanders will graduate from Stanford this summer; as such, he will be eligible to play immediately for OSU in 2016 after he arrives this June.

In early January, Sanders confirmed his intention to transfer from the Cardinal after receiving a release from his scholarship.  That confirmation came a month or so after speculation began growing that Sanders, the son of Heisman-winning OSU legend Barry Sanders, was considering a move to his father’s alma mater, talk that prompted Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy to address the issue.

As the younger Sanders will be following in some rather sizable Stillwater shoes, he discussed the move with his father before deciding to become the second Barry Sanders to have his name on an OSU uniform.

“His message to me was to keep an open mind,” Sanders told the newspaper. “I think that he would have wanted me to look at more schools. He definitely didn’t want me to make a decision without considering other options. What I told him was that this was something I’ve been thinking about for some time. I just knew this was the right decision and the right fit for a variety of different reasons.

“So when I kind of explained my reasons behind it, he was pretty comfortable with it and he’s just as excited as I am.”

Sanders was a four-star member of the Cardinal’s 2012 recruiting class, rated as the No. 9 running back in the country and the No. 2 player at any position in the state of Oklahoma. He chose Stanford over, among others, Alabama and the Big 12 OSU.

The last three seasons, Sanders has rushed for 672 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. He’s also caught 12 passes for 89 yards and averaged 9.5 yards on 10 punt returns.

Family matter prompts Danny Hope to leave USF staff

during the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl  at Marlins Park on December 21, 2015 in Miami, Florida.
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Sometimes, believe it or not, there are things more important than football.

Earlier Thursday, speculation began making the rounds that Danny Hope might be forced to leave South Florida because of an unspecified “family matter.”  A short time later, USF announced in a press release that Hope is indeed leaving the Bulls “in order to be closer to his family.”

Hope had just completed his first season as head coach’s Willie Taggart‘s co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

“I would like to thank Danny for his significant contributions to the success of our program over the past season,” Taggart said. “We appreciated having him as part of our staff and I know he enjoyed being a Bull. He loved it here and I loved having him, but sometimes you have to make choices in regards to what’s best for your family. I respect Danny’s desire to do what’s best for him and his family. We wish him nothing but the best in the future.”

Hope was dismissed as Purdue’s head coach in November of 2012, spending two seasons on the coaching sidelines before joining Taggart’s staff in December of 2014.

Taggart had a pair of offensive coordinators on his staff, Hope and David Reaves.  Reaves will presumably be promoted to solo coordinator as well as maintaining the title of passing game coordinator, while Taggart intends to continue on as the Bulls’ primary play-caller.

“I expect to be able to complete our staff very quickly with an excellent offensive line coach,” Taggart said. “I will continue to call the plays and work closely with our offense, and we will build our staff around that same structure.”

NCAA rules committee votes to allow replay official to call missed targeting foul

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The NCAA Football Rules Committee’s annual passage of potential new rules for the sport will once again include a potentially controversial measure.

Following four days worth of meetings in Orlando, the NCAA announced Thursday that the committee has approved several proposals that, if approved Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP), will go into effect for the 2016 season. As has previously been expected, one of the proposals the committee voted on and approved was to “expand the authority of the instant replay official, requiring them to review all aspects of targeting fouls.”

In a review of the controversial targeting rule, the NCAA found that, in what it described as a “small number of cases,” players were wrongly ejected from games. Those ejections came after the original targeting call on the field was reviewed by the replay official. Now? The committee has recommended that the same replay officials be given the power “to stop the game and create a targeting foul in situations where an egregious action has occurred” but was missed by the on-field officiating crew.

“The targeting rule is serving the game well, and has enhanced player safety,” said Bob Nielson, chair of the committee and head coach at the University of South Dakota, in a statement. “Because this is such a severe penalty, we are instructing replay officials to review plays to ensure that the required elements of targeting exist. We are also adding the ability for the replay official to stop the game when a potential targeting foul is not detected on the field.”

In another tweak that could ultimately lead to a significant technological development in the not-too-distant future, the committee has approved a proposal that would allow electronic devices — i.e. tablets — in the press box and locker rooms during game day. What will still not be permitted is such devices being utilized on the sidelines, something the NFL approved two years ago and which the college version of the game is expected to ultimately adopt. In that vein, the NCAA wrote in its release that “[t]he committee will continue monitoring the use of those devices next year in addition to other potential technology enhancements it believes could improve the game.”

Last year, the rules committee had approved a proposal that would’ve adjusted the ineligible receiver downfield rule from 3 yards to 1 yard. That controversial proposal was met with significant push-back from HUNH coaches, and was ultimately tabled by the PROP. The ineligible receiver downfield rule will remain the same as in the past, the NCAA has reaffirmed, although “the committee [has] decided to instruct officials to stringently enforce the 3-yard limit and adjust officiating mechanics to better officiate those plays.”

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Three additional proposals aimed at greater player safety were approved:

• First, the rules dealing with low blocks were adjusted to prohibit a player who leaves the tackle box from blocking below the waist toward the initial position of the ball.
• Second, the rules pertaining to a defenseless player will include a ball carrier who has clearly given himself up by sliding feet first.
• Finally, the deliberate tripping of the ball carrier (with the leg) was approved as a foul.

All of the proposals approved by the rules committee will be considered by the PROP on March 8. Again, if approved, the proposed changes would be implemented for the 2016 season.

Reports: A&M bringing back Jim Turner as O-line coach

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 17:  Offensive line coach, Jim Turner, of the Miami Dolphins coaches his players before their game against the San Diego Chargers at Sun Life Stadium on November 17, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Wednesday brought word that Texas A&M’s defensive line coach was hired for the same job at Indiana.  The dawn of a new day has brought word that Kevin Sumlin has addressed his line vacancy on the other side of the ball, and with a very familiar face at that.

Billy Liucci of TexAgs.com was the first to report that Sumlin has decided to bring Jim Turner back as his offensive line coach.  FOXSports.com‘s Bruce Feldman subsequently confirmed the initial report.

Turner would replace Dave Christensen, who “parted ways” with the program earlier this month.  According to 247Sports.com, Turner “was chosen over former Tennessee Titans offensive line coach Bob Bostad and current McNeese State offensive line coach Eman Naghavi” to be Christensen’s replacement.

Turner spent the 2008-11 seasons as the line coach at A&M under Mike Sherman.  After Sherman’s firing in December of 2011, Turner followed the ex-Aggies head coach to the Miami Dolphins, where the former was the line coach and the latter the offensive coordinator.

After two seasons with the NFL club, Turner was fired after getting swept up in the maelstrom that was the Dolphins’ bullying and harassment scandal.  Turner subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming “his reputation and career have been unfairly affected” by the reports commissioned by the NFL.

Turner spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons “in private business” before being hired earlier this year to be the line coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats.