Mark Shurtleff

Utah attorney general still pushing ahead on BcS lawsuit

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Back in late June, the office of Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff posted a listing on a website normally utilized by government agencies to solicit bids and contracts, a posting seeking information from interested law firms “preliminary to undertaking a process to select a Legal Team to pursue an investigation and possible litigation to determine the legality of the Bowl Championship Series system for College FBS post season football under federal and Utah state antitrust or other applicable law and to obtain appropriate relief.”

Since then, though, the postseason tone of some of the heaviest hitters in the sport has undergone a significant shift, to the point where the talk is there’s a real possibility the BcS won’t even exist beyond the 2013 season.  The decision on the postseason landscape, up to and including some type of playoff to determine a national champion, is expected to come before the end of summer.

Despite all the talk of change in the sport and ridding itself of the BcS, however, Shurtleff is undeterred.  He still has his sights set on the cartel.

As pointed out by Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com, the State of Utah has posted yet another listing on the same website, BidSync.com, with a bid titled “Antitrust Investigation/Litigation RE: College Football Bowl Championship Series”.  The bid was opened March 9 and closes April 13, and the bid packet — which can be viewed in its entirety HERE — acknowledges that the uncertainty of the future of the BcS leaves the state’s future legal strategy up in the air:

The current BCS system itself is undergoing a process of change, and news reports indicate that a substantially different system may be put in place this spring or summer that may apply beginning with the 2014 college football season. Because changes to the BCS system are anticipated, but the nature of the changes is not yet known, it is not possible to describe with certainty the objectives and goals of the Utah AG. By submitting a Response to the RFP, each Legal Team acknowledges that it accepts the risk that the Representation may be more complex and may involve more parties, fact discovery and experts than the Legal Team currently
anticipates.

The potential for change to or even outright elimination of the BcS aside, the bid packet lists four “objectives” the to-be-assembled legal team could be asked to pursue, with the potential for the scope to change pending resolution of college football’s postseason question:

  • Elimination of automatic qualifying conferences, or the “[e]limination of any preference for some FBS teams based upon the conference in which they play” as the state’s bid puts it.  That’s an idea that’s already seen at least some modicum of support from those in the sport, and will likely be one of the key negotiating points throughout the summer among the leaders in the game.
  • Transparency in the current system, specifically as it relates to the computer programs that are a part of the rankings utilized by the BcS.  “[T]he BCS does not require that the computer programs be transparent, and only one actually makes the criteria that it uses public,” the document states, referring to the six programs used in setting the BcS rankings. “Thus, there is no way to determine either the overall scientific validity of the polls or whether they unfairly favor some teams or conferences at the expense of others.”  The AG’s aim, it’s made clear, is “to ensure that any computer programs used are based upon scientifically valid and neutral criteria.”  Proprietary concerns on the part computer programmers aside, this is something that should’ve been adapted long ago, and should be implemented should the BcS remain in place and used to determine the makeup of a four-team — or more — playoff.
  • “[T]o make sure that every FBS team begins each season with a meaningful opportunity to control its own destiny to play in a BCS bowl game and the national championship game regardless of conference affiliation.”  This is why, regardless of whether the BcS survives or is merely tweaked, Shurtleff and his staff are keeping all of their legal options open and available.  There’s little doubt that the commissioners of the Big Six conferences and the presidents they serve will look to consolidate as much power as possible within themselves, regardless of whether it’s under a tweaked BcS or an entirely new system.  In essence, this is the AG’s shot across all those bows, which sends a clear message: fairness and equity should be a consideration in your talks.  Or else.
  • “[T]o ensure transparent competitive bidding among venues for the opportunity to host any BCS bowl game or national championship game.”  This hits on the issue of BcS bowls being “free to impose unreasonable terms upon teams that are selected for those games. … [requiring] that teams stay at specific hotels for periods of time much longer than necessary, and they can require teams to purchase large blocks of tickets that they may not be able to resell to their fans. As a result, it is possible for an FBS team to earn an invitation to a BCS bowl and lose significant amounts of money.”  The bottom line for this objective is to ensure competitive bidding among venues for the opportunity to host any BcS bowl game or title game.

As for potential targets — or “adverse parties” as the state refers to them — in any future lawsuit, they are exactly who you would think: the NCAA; the BcS and its four bowls — the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta bowls; all six AQ conferences, including the Pac-12, which added the Utah Utes to its membership last year; and “[a]ny media entity that has a contract to broadcast or disseminate audio or video from any BCS bowl game in any format (e.g., ESPN).”

Again, all of this lawsuit talk could be a moot point pending a resolution to the postseason issue at some point before the end of the summer.  As long as that uncertainty over the exact future structure of the postseason exists, and thus the issue of “fair and equitable” is still undetermined, Shurtleff will continue to rattle his saber.

If the powers-that-be really are concerned about a legal challenge from Shurtleff, it may actually give some impetus for a proposal promoted by Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and formally favored by his conference: a four-team playoff consisting only of the highest-ranked conference winners.  Three of the last four years, a team from a non-AQ school would have qualified for a four-team playoff utilizing Scott’s idea.

The SEC, however, is against a proposal limiting the playoff pool to conference title winners.

It will be interesting, to say the least, to watch in the coming months how the leaders in the sport juggle myriad proposals, various egos and divergent wishes of the power conferences, all while operating with the looming threat of legal action if they don’t “get it right”.  No pressure, y’all.

Then again, the Power Six could merely say “screw it” and break off from the NCAA and form its own football entity.  While it’s not as likely as it may have been even a few months ago, it’s certainly not completely out of the realm of possibility, either..

No. 3 Clemson punches playoff ticket with ACC championship win over Virginia Tech

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 03:  The Clemson Tigers take the field during the ACC Championship against the Virginia Tech Hokies on December 3, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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For the second straight season, Clemson can say they punched their ticket to the College Football Playoff with yet another close ACC championship game victory.

The third-ranked Tigers jumped out to a big lead, led throughout and ultimately prevailed over Virginia Tech in a 42-35 win that was a tad closer than the final score indicated.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson continued his stellar play down the stretch this season, throwing for 288 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The signal-caller added another two scores on the ground to go with his team-high 85 yards rushing as well on a night where he made some clutch throws down the stretch to keep the team in front of a stingy Bud Foster defense.

Tailback Wayne Gallman also found the end zone in Orlando but was still relatively limited with just 59 yards on 17 carries.

The Hokies did make sure Clemson sweated out things by threatening in the second and third quarters. Quarterback Jerod Evans threw for 264 yards and a touchdown but couldn’t get any help from Virginia Tech’s normally reliable ground game and threw an interception with 71 seconds left to end a comeback. Evans also led the team in rushing and scored twice while running back Travon McMillian did the same but managed to do so on only 37 yards rushing.

With a second straight ACC title in the bag for Dabo Swinney and company, the only question left for Clemson is where will they stand on Sunday afternoon and what semifinal site they will head to. Alabama appears locked into the No. 1 seed in the Peach Bowl but could the close result against Virginia Tech — combined with Washington’s emphatic win in the Pac-12 title game — force a national title game rematch in Atlanta?

That’s probably not on the minds of the Tigers on Saturday night as they rightfully celebrate yet another league championship and look like a dangerous team to face at the end of the month.

No. 7 Penn State completes comeback for the ages to claim B1G title

Penn State's Saquon Barkley (26) makes an 18-yard touchdown catch against Wisconsin's T.J. Watt (42) during the second half of the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
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On Sept. 24, Penn State was 2-2 on the season, 0-1 in Big Ten play after a 49-10 undressing by Michigan in Ann Arbor. Their Big Ten title hopes were left for dead. As we know, they managed to rally and win the Big Ten East.

And then, with 5:15 left in the second quarter, the Nittany Lions trailed 28-7 and their chances of actually winning the game were again left for dead.

But the Cardiac Cats rallied. Again. The seventh-ranked Lions closed the game on a 31-3 run to race past No. 6 Wisconsin for a 38-31 Big Ten Championship victory.

Of course, this win means much more than that. At 11-2 on the season, winners of nine in a row and winners of college football’s best conference, the question now becomes whether the College Football Playoff selection committee chooses the Lions over 11-1 Ohio State or Pac-12 champion Washington on Sunday.

But first, the comeback.

Penn State simply could not get out of its own way — or get Wisconsin out of its way… or get in Wisconsin’s way, for that matter — over the game’s first 25 minutes. The Badgers opened by forcing two three-and-outs and launching two long touchdown drives to grab a 14-0 lead a dozen minutes into the game. After a McSorley touchdown pass put Penn State on the board, the Nittany Lions allowed an errant snap to be returned for a touchdown early in the second quarter.

James Franklin elected to go for a fourth-and-short in his own territory on the ensuing possession and was rebuffed. Wisconsin again capitalized on the mistake to grab a 28-7 lead with 5:15 remaining in the first half. Penn State again failed on a fourth-and-short near midfield on the next possession, but this time the Badgers failed to cash in. And that proved costly.

Because that failure to land the death blow allowed Penn State’s Cardiac Cats persona to awaken.

The Lions’ comeback started when McSorley hit Saeed Blacknall for a 40-yard touchdown catch with 58 seconds left in the half to pull within  a more manageable 28-14 deficit at the break.

After Wisconsin missed a field goal to open the second half, McSorley answered by finding Blacknall for a 70-yard scoring strike on the very next play. Then Penn State tied the game on its next touch as Saquon Barkley punched in a 1-yard score at the 4:22 mark of the third quarter.

Wisconsin re-gained the lead with a 23-yard Andrew Endicott chip shot, but only after Bart Houston missed what would have been a walk-in touchdown to tight end Troy Fumagalli on 2nd-and-8 from the 10-yard line.

Given the opportunity to take the lead, Penn State took full advantage, marching 81 yards in only four plays as Barkley hauled in an 18-yard wheel route from McSorley.

McSorley finished the game hitting 22-of-31 passes for 384 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions — against a defense that came in allowing eight touchdowns while swiping 21 interceptions. Compared to Houston’s numbers — 16-of-21 for 174 yards — quarterback play proved to be the difference in the game. McSorley’s play allowed Penn State to win a game in which it was out-rushed 241-51.

Wisconsin punted on its next touch, and Penn State missed its chance to deliver a knockout punch, instead settling for a 24-yard Tyler Davis field goal with 5:14 to play in the game.

Wisconsin would need a touchdown to force overtime, while Penn State would need a stop to complete its 21-point comeback. The Badgers moved to the Penn State 24, but, facing a 4th-and-1, Corey Clement was stuffed for no gain.

Penn State expired the final 58 seconds and secured the largest comeback ever in a Power 5 conference championship game.

Arkansas State, Appalachian State end up as SBC co-champs

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Two of the 10 FBS conferences don’t have championship games to determine a league champion.  The Big 12, which will go to a title game format next season, crowned an undisputed champion earlier today.  The other game-less league, on the other hand, will have more than one official champ.

Arkansas State had the opportunity to potentially win the Sun Belt Conference outright, but lost in Week 13 to drop to 6-1 in conference play.  Appalachian State won the same weekend to finish the season at 7-1 and claim at least a share of league title.

ASU and Troy, both 6-1 entering Week 14, needed a win to claim its share.

Troy failed miserably, falling 28-24 on the road to a Georgia Southern team that entered the game 4-7 overall and 3-4 in the SBC.  ASU, though, passed its final regular season test, putting 20 fourth-quarter points on the scoreboard in getting past Texas State in a 36-14 win in San Marcos.

The Red Wolves have now won five SBC titles the past six years, with three of those (2011, 2012, 2015) being undisputed.  They’re also the first team since Troy was in the midst of a five-year run from 2006-10 to win back-to-back championships.

As for App State, this is the Mountaineers’ first FBS league championship since moving to the SBC from the FCS for the 2014 season.

The three teams at the top of the SBC will play in some combination of the New Orleans/Dollar General/Camellia Bowls.  Arkansas State will be playing in its sixth straight bowl game, while Appalachian State will be in its second in a row in just its third season at this level.  Troy, meanwhile, will be making its first postseason appearance since winning the New Orleans Bowl in 2010.

San Diego State runs past Wyoming for second straight Mountain West title

San Diego State's Donnel Humphrey runs for a touchdown during the first half against Wyoming in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Laramie, Wyo. (AP Photo/Michael Smith)
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They say revenge is a dish best served cold. San Diego State checked off both boxes on Saturday night.

The Aztecs captured their second straight Mountain West championship and avenged an earlier loss with a 27-24 win over Wyoming in freezing conditions up in Laramie.

The San Diego State ground game was clicking all night long in a game where it was difficult to get much of anything through the air. Star tailback Donnel Pumphrey finished with 110 yards and a touchdown, passing former Texas great Ricky Williams to become the second leading rusher in FBS history late in the third quarter. The senior trails only Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne by 108 yards on the all-time list with a chance to top his mark later this month in what will likely be a berth in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Pumphrey’s backup Rashaad Penny wasn’t too shabby either, picking up a team-high 117 yards on the ground and finding the end zone twice. It was a good thing both players were humming in the backfield as quarterback Christian Chapman managed only 85 yards on six completions.

The SDSU defense also came to play in one of their best performances in a while. They picked off Wyoming’s Josh Allen twice, recovered a fumble late in the second half and bottled up the prolific runner Brian Hill to the tune of just 93 yards.

The Cowboys made a run to close the gap to just a field goal in the fourth quarter but couldn’t quite get over the hump for their second win in as many weeks over the Aztecs for a first ever Mountain West title.

Instead it was Rocky Long’s San Diego State squad that could lay claim to being the best in the conference this season for the second year in a row.