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.

College Football Playoff: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington ready to chase championship

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  The Clemson Tigers with the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the first half during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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The College Football Playoff selection committee had to do a little bit more discussion to determine their top four this season than they may have had in the past two seasons, but a decision has been reached. Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington are this year’s selections for the College Football Playoff.

The College Football Playoff Four

No. 1 Alabama – The defending national champions are making their third straight appearance in the College Football Playoff. Alabama is the only program to appear in all three playoff tournaments under the new model.

No. 2 Clemson – The ACC champion Clemson Tigers are back in the playoff for a second straight season. Clemson fell in the championship game last year against Alabama. Will the experience of last season pay off for the Tigers in their second consecutive trip representing the ACC?

No. 3 Ohio State – The Buckeyes are looking for their second national championship under the College Football Playoff model. Ohio State becomes the first non-division and non-conference champion to play in the playoff.

No. 4 Washington – The Huskies are the only team making their first trip to the College Football Playoff, and they represent give the Pac-12 their second team in the playoff in three years. Oregon made the playoff in the first season two years ago. The Huskies enter the playoff with blowout wins against top 25 teams Washington State and Colorado.

The Matchups

Peach Bowl: Alabama vs. Washington – A nice little Steve Sarkisian storyline is hidden here, but Chris Petersen and Nick Saban have been two terrific coaches over their careers with time to prepare for big games. Alabama is Atlanta is a tough draw for Washington, but then again anybody would have had a tough draw against the Crimson Tide.

Fiesta Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State – A rematch of the Orange Bowl from a few years ago, with Clemson embarrassing Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes in the final season of the BCS formula. Ohio State loves making trips to the Fiesta Bowl, where they always seem to come out on top. Can they keep that going?

First Two Out

Penn State moved up to No. 5 in the playoff committee’s rankings, nudging just ahead of No. 6 Michigan. The Nittany Lions had a compelling argument for inclusion in the playoff but will take a trip to the Rose Bowl as a pretty nice consolation prize. Penn State will play either Colorado or USC. Michigan will now be heading to the Orange Bowl.

Big 12 misses out once again

The Big 12 has missed the College Football Playoff for a second time in three seasons. The four-team playoff model guarantees one power conference will be left out every year at a minimum, and the Big 12 once again took the short straw without a clear above-the-rest contender. Even a strong finish and run by the Oklahoma Sooners was not enough to overcome a tough September with losses to Houston and Ohio State. This should kick the tires on some heated discussions in Big 12 circles in the future.

The ACC, Big Ten and SEC have been represented in all three playoffs, with the Pac-12 earning two berths.

Report: Alabama QB Cooper Bateman plans to transfer

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 01:  Cooper Bateman #18 of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks to pass against the Kentucky Wildcats at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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With Alabama seeing a rising star in freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, it should be no real shock Cooper Bateman would contemplate finding a new place to call home and throw the pigskin around next fall. According to a report this morning from AL.com, that is exactly what he will do.

A redshirt junior, Bateman ended the season sitting third on Alabama’s depth chart at quarterback despite starting off the spring as the most likely starter for the defending national champions. Not only did Bateman fall behind Hurts, but also Blake Barnett. Barnett opted to leave Alabama earlier this season and continues to search for a landing spot.

Al.com reports it is unknown or unconfirmed exactly when Bateman will formally leave the team. For now, there is uncertainty over whether or not Bateman will remain with the Tide during the upcoming playoff run. It is worth remembering players deciding to leave the Alabama program have been shown the door in not-so-flattering fashion in the past, so if Bateman is out then he may not be welcomed back.

Reports: Tommy Tuberville stepping down at Cincinnati

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 15: Head coach Tommy Tuberville of the Cincinnati Bearcats looks on in the first half against the Houston Cougars at Nippert Stadium on September 15, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images
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The writing appeared to be on the wall as the 2016 season continued to play out, but the end of the Tommy Tuberville era in Cincinnati appears to have been reached.

As reported by Football Scoop this morning, Tuberville has decided to step down as head coach of the program. USA Today has also reported this decision. The resignation comes at the end of a disappointing 4-8 season for the Bearcats, who once again fell well shy of a division championship in the American Athletic Conference. What is unknown at this time is how much of Tuberville’s buyout will be paid, as the date for a drop in his buyout terms was scheduled for later this week, dropping the buyout terms from $2.4 million to $1.5 million.

We also do not know if this is the end of Tuberville as a head coach. Perhaps a change of scenery would benefit Tuberville? Who knows. But the Cincinnati job now coming on the market puts an interesting job on the list of vacancies. Like Houston, the Cincinnati job appears to be one of the more attractive Group of Five jobs given what the university has invested in the program in recent years and has planned going forward. The Cincinnati program should be in a situation to compete annually for an AAC championship, despite what the past two years have shown. Early names floating around as potential names of interest include Western Michigan’s PJ Fleck (and yes, this would be a step up despite leaving Group of Five job for another) and Western Kentucky’s Jeff Brohm. Either would be fine additions for Cincinnati, but where Cincinnati falls in the pecking order with other suitors looking for a head coach is in question. The Cincinnati job may not quite be the Houston job, but is it better than Purdue? Baylor?

Every coach thinks differently about coaching jobs, so well wait to see where Cincinnati goes from here and what names are attracted to the job.

AP poll: Alabama runs the wire at No. 1, Penn State moves past Michigan

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates with his team after their 54 to 16 win over the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on December 3, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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The Alabama Crimson Tide have run the gauntlet of the regular season and conference championship weekend without losing an edge at the top of the Associated Press top 25 poll. The defending national champions started the season as the overwhelming favorite as the preseason No. 1 and they will enter the College Football Playoff as the top-ranked team in the AP Top 25. With not a whole lot going on outside a number of conference championship games, there was not much to change with the final AP Top 25 of the regular season, but Big Ten champion Penn State has moved ahead of Michigan.

The top four remained unchanged with Ohio State, Clemson and Washington holding form behind Alabama, respectively. Alabama, Clemson and Washington won their respective conference championships this weekend. Penn State moved up on the strength of a Big Ten championship game victory over No. 8 Wisconsin (down two spots). Michigan moved down one spot in the reshuffling despite a blowout victory over Penn State earlier in the season. Big 12 champion Oklahoma held on to the seventh spot in the AP poll, with No. 9 USC (up one) and No. 10 Florida State (up two) moving up this week.

There was one newcomer to the AP poll this week. No. 23 Temple moved into the poll in the final week of the season after upsetting Navy in the American Athletic Conference championship. The Owls and No. 25 USF are the two representatives from the conference this week, but each are well behind undefeated MAC champion Western Michigan. The 13-0 Broncos are No. 12 this week and are likely heading to the Cotton Bowl.

Here is the most recent AP Top 25, with Alabama receiving all 61 first-place votes.

  1. Alabama (61)
  2. Ohio State
  3. Clemson
  4. Washington
  5. Penn State
  6. Michigan
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Wisconsin
  9. USC
  10. Florida State
  11. Colorado
  12. Western Michigan
  13. Oklahoma State
  14. West Virginia
  15. Louisville
  16. Stanford
  17. Auburn
  18. Virginia Tech
  19. LSU
  20. Florida
  21. Iowa
  22. Pittsburgh
  23. Temple
  24. Nebraska
  25. USF