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Big 12 introduces WVU, says no future expansion on horizon

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Representatives from the Big 12 and West Virginia held a teleconference this afternoon welcoming WVU as the 10th member of the league, and to answer questions about the decision-making process.

It’s been a hellacious week for WVU, who appeared to be on their way to the Big 12 as early as Wednesday. But reports that Louisville was making a late surge to overtake the Mountaineers caused the decision to be delayed until today. If you felt a breeze at all, it was probably the collective sigh of relief coming from the state of West Virginia, which wanted nothing more than to leave the sinking life boat that is the Big East conference.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous,” WVU AD Oliver Luck admitted.

Interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas hardly made mention of Louisville this evening or indicated that there was political pressure from senator Mitch McConnell, a Louisville graduate, about the Cardinals becoming the Big 12’s 10th member. On the contrary, Neinas said the “mystery” surrounding Missouri and the possibility of an 11-game schedule caused the 72-hour hold-up.

“We were moving forward, and we came across the fact that if we were to add a new member, and if Missouri remained or delayed their departure, we would ahve to look at an 11 member conference,” Neinas explained. “As a result, the [expansion] Executive Committee shared that info with the Board of Directors.

“The athletic directors and the Board of Directors agreed to move forward with 10 members… Expansion is not on the horizon.”

Speaking of the Tigers, Neinas wouldn’t comment on Missouri’s status.

And what about the rumor that getting to Morgantown was a central problem for Big 12 teams? “Blown out of proportion,” answered Neinas.

Wherever WVU will be departing from — Neinas mentioned the airport in Bridgeport, a half hour away from Morgantown — they hope to be doing so in 2012. In fact, Luck mentioned twice that WVU looked forward to being a member of the Big 12 “beginning July 1, 2012.” That date would be contrary to the one mentioned in a press release by the Big East, which has maintained they will hold WVU to the same 27-month waiting period as Pitt and Syracuse, who are leaving for the ACC.

When asked about getting out of that waiting period, Luck said “Our team and their are in discussions about how to work that out.”

As far as finances are concerned, WVU confirmed they sent $2.5 million in a wire transfer to the Big East today as part of the $5 million buyout. They will send the rest upon leaving. One of the reasons WVU wanted to leave the Big East as soon as possible was to avoid paying any more in exit fees. Big East presidents agreed to raising exit fees to $10 million, but the amount hasn’t been enforced yet. What amounts WVU will have to pay for leaving before the 27-month waiting period — if they can get out before then — remains unclear.

When WVU does get into the Big 12, they’ll be a part of a revenue distribution model similar to TCU’s, despite previous reports to the contrary. The Big 12 needs to stay at 10 members in order to fulfill their obligation with the Big 12 Network and to stay viable with their TV partners, so getting WVU to the Big 12 ASAP is a priority.

“Our TV partners and bowl partners are elated about the addition of West Virginia,” Neinas said. “West Virginia’s going to be on any [conference’s] list.”

But, for a while, it looked like WVU might get left out in the conference realignment cold. The ACC showed no interest in WVU (they never have and never will), and West Virginia simply doesn’t have the TV market the SEC desires. It wasn’t until Pitt and Syracuse left for the ACC in September that WVU said they began evaluating their options.

“Clearly when Pitt and Syracuse chose to leave, all the remaining Big East schools had to take a step back and think about what was best for each individual school,” WVU president James Clements said.

Up until this week, WVU had remained one of the quietest programs in college football on the realignment front, and you can bet that was a premeditated approach. For having no natural TV market or recruiting grounds, and without being considered a top-notch academic institution, a ton of credit needs to be given to Luck and Clements for selling the Big 12 on the brand of WVU athletics.

Say what you will about the Stewart/Holgorsen debacle, or the beer sales at Mountaineer Field (for what it’s worth, the Big 12 doesn’t have a beer sales policy), but Luck put WVU in the best position to get out of the Big East without a plethora of selling points. The benefit of WVU is that it’s a good, self-sustaining athletic department with a value in viewership.

And the Big 12 took notice.

“We started looking at West Virginia when we thought we might lose a member,” Neinas said about the eventual departure of Texas A&M.

Amidst medical mystery, Georgia’s Trenton Thompson withdraws from spring semester classes

ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 19: Anthony Jennings #11 of the Lousiana-Lafayette Rajin' Cajuns is pursued by Trenton Thompson #78 of the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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While the details are very hazy at the moment, a member of the Georgia football team has apparently suffered a health scare recently that calls into question his short-term future with the football program.

First reported by WSB-TV, defensive end Trent Thompson suffered an unspecified medical emergency very early Thursday morning and was rushed to an Athens hospital. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution subsequently confirmed the initial report.

Thompson was released from the hospital Thursday morning, his mother confirmed to the television station. No specifics have been released publicly, although the Journal-Constitution, citing sources with knowledge of the situation, is reporting that no drugs or alcohol were involved. It’s also believed that the issue isn’t related to football.

In the wake of those reports as well as others that indicated he had a run-in with Athens police immediately prior to the hospitalization, UGA released the following statement, which reveals that Thompson will be withdrawing from classes this semester because of the unspecified medical issues:

Based upon recent events, Trenton Thompson’s family has authorized UGAAA to release the following information. Trenton has been dealing with a significant medical issue which required emergency hospitalization and extended hospital stay. Trenton was recently discharged from the hospital and remains under close medical care. With respect to last night’s incident, the physical appearance and behavior described in the UGA PD report is solely related to an adverse reaction to medications prescribed specifically for his medical condition. The adverse reaction required emergency transport to Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center where he was treated and released. Toxicology tests performed at the hospital were negative for OxyContin. We cannot release any further information at this time due to federal privacy laws. Due to the medical issues, Trenton is withdrawing from classes this semester, and his family requests privacy during this time.

As a sophomore last season, Thompson started seven of the 13 games in which he played. His 9.5 tackles for loss led the Bulldogs, while his five sacks were tied for the team lead and the 56 tackles with which he was credited were tops among linemen.

Capping off that breakout season, he was named MVP of UGA’s Liberty Bowl win over TCU.

Iowa State DB Mike Johnson suspended amid domestic violence arrest

AMES, IA - NOVEMBER 19: Wide receiver Keke Coutee #20 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders blocks defensive back Mike Johnson #3 of the Iowa State Cyclones as he rushed for yards in the first half of play at Jack Trice Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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Iowa State has suspended defensive back Mike Johnson after he was arrested Thursday on the accusation that he choked his girlfriend.

As reported by the Des Moines Register, Johnson and his girlfriend were fighting over social media posts and music playing over each other’s phones when each tried to reach for the other’s device. That escalated to the point where Johnson allegedly had both hands around the woman’s throat, to the point where told police she “saw stars” and had trouble breathing.

She also had, according to police, bite marks on her right cheek, on her neck and behind her left ear, a swollen upper lip and had what appeared to be dried blood on her. Johnson also said he was bitten during the altercation.

“We are aware of Mike Johnson’s arrest and allegations associated with his arrest,” head coach Matt Campbell told the paper in a statement. “Our program has zero tolerance for domestic violence. Mike has been suspended from all team activities, including practice, under the student-athlete code of conduct policy as we gather more information. His long-term status with the team will be determined once we gain more facts.”

Johnson posted 44 tackles, three pass breakups and 1.5 tackles for loss in 12 games last season.

Report: Former Pitt RB James Conner given clean bill of health

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James Conner will head to next week’s Combine with a clean bill of health, according to a report Thursday from ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

“Pitt RB James Conner, who missed most of 2015 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, received a clean scan today, a week prior to combine, per source,” Schefter tweeted.

Conner led the ACC in rushing in 2014, rushing for 1,765 yards and 5.92 yards per carry with 26 touchdowns in 2014, before a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis caused him to miss all but one game of the 2015 campaign. (And in that one game, Conner still rushed for nearly 10 yards per carry and two touchdowns.)

He battled back to return to the field in 2016, again leading the Panthers with 216 carries for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns while finishing third on the club with 21 grabs for 302 yards and four touchdowns.

Conner will compete at the Combine for draft positioning with fellow running backs Leonard FournetteDalvin Cook and D'Onta Foreman, among others.

Willie Taggart no longer speaking with Oregon beat reporter

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 28:  Head Coach Willie Taggart walks the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Miami Hurricanes on September 28, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Oregon strength coach Irele Oderinde is now back at work after serving a 1-month, unpaid suspension resulting from three players being hospitalized after Oderinde’s first supervised workout with the Ducks, but the story is not over in Eugene.

According to Oregon’s student paper The Daily Emerald, Taggart is no longer speaking with the reporter who broke the story, The Oregonian‘s Andrew Greif.

“When you’re not fair and honest, then to me that’s personal,” Taggart told the paper. “When you do something that’s negative and it’s going to be personal, then I won’t have shit to do with you.”

Greif, for his part, stands by the story and says the paper will not issue a retraction, as Taggart requested:

“Though the description of the workouts is understandably subjective, ultimately what has never been in doubt is that three UO players were hospitalized after the first week of offseason workouts and received treatment for several days,” Greif said in an email to the Emerald.

Complicating matters for Taggart is that the university commissioned faculty athletics rep Tim Gleason, a journalism professor, to review the report. In speaking with players, coaches, trainers and AD Rob Mullens, Gleason found the report not to be inaccurate.

“It’s not an unfair characterization; it’s just that the way it gets interpreted is regrettable,” Gleason said. “In the shorthand of journalism, it resulted in an impression that may not have been completely accurate.”

Also contradicting Taggart are members of his own staff, who said off-the-record that the workouts were “military-style.” Greif quoted them anonymously when inserting that phrase into the piece:

Players this week were required to finish the same workouts, which were described by multiple sources as akin to military basic training, with one said to include up to an hour of continuous push-ups and up-downs.

It’s not clear where the story goes from here, except that Taggart made clear twice in his interview with the Emerald he has no plans to answer questions from Greif in the future.