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..

Alabama announces future home-and-home with Notre Dame

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The reports have officially come to fruition.

Late last month, it was reported that Alabama was working on scheduling a home-and-home series with Notre Dame.  Nearly a month later, the Crimson Tide confirmed that it has indeed reached a scheduling agreement with their counterparts with the Fighting Irish.

The Crimson Tide will travel to South Bend Sept. 2, 2028, with the Fighting Irish heading to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 1 of the following season.

“It doesn’t get more tradition-rich than Alabama and Notre Dame when it comes to college football,” a statement from UA athletic director Greg Byrne began. “What a great opportunity this is for our program and for our fans to kick off the 2028 and 2029 seasons.”

The two storied football programs have met seven times previously, with the last coming in the 2012 championship game.  The Tide won that last matchup, but trail in the series 5-2.  Including the BCS title game, three of the meetings have come in the postseason, with the other two being the 1973 Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl following the 1974 season.

The 2029 game will mark the Fighting Irish’s first-ever appearance at Bryant-Denny Stadium as their two previous regular-season games against the Crimson Tide were played at Legion Field in Birmingham (1980, 1986).  Alabama has played Notre Dame in South Bend twice (1976, 1987).

“We are excited to be able to add a home-and-home series with a team like Notre Dame,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “Alabama and Notre Dame represent two of the most storied programs in college football history. What a great opportunity for our team and our fans to be able to witness these teams play in two of the sport’s most iconic venues in Tuscaloosa and South Bend.”

Tennessee announces four-year deal for AD Phillip Fulmer

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Earlier this month, it was reported that Tennessee and Phillip Fulmer were closing in on a long-term deal.  Two weeks later, those reports have come to fruition.

Thursday morning, UT announced that it has reached an agreement on a four-year contract with Fulmer to continue in his role as athletic director.  Fulmer was named as acting athletic director on Dec. 1, not long after John Currie was fired from the post.  His first big move came less than a week after being tabbed for the role when Jeremy Pruitt was hired as the Volunteers’ new head football coach.

Fulmer’s contract will reportedly average $1 million annually, with the opportunity to earn up to $300,000 in bonuses as well.

“Phillip has been a great partner over the last four months and I commend him for the work he has done with our student-athletes, coaches and staff,” chancellor Beverly Davenport said in a statement. “Phillip has been connected to the University of Tennessee and its athletics program for more than 40 years and he understands the expectations we have for our athletics department.

“He is surrounded by a very knowledgeable staff that is deeply committed to the success of our student-athletes. I look forward to our continued partnership.”

A native of Winchester, Tenn., Fulmer played his college football for the Volunteers in the late sixties.  He began his coaching career at UT as a grad assistant from 1972-73, then returned as offensive line coach in 1980.  After spending 13 seasons as an assistant, he took over as the Volunteers head coach in 1992 — Johnny Majors has always alleged Fulmer was behind his ouster — and spent 17 seasons leading his alma mater.

In that span, Fulmer went 152-52, winning a pair of SEC titles and the 1998 national championship.

“I am very grateful to Chancellor Davenport for the opportunity to continue to serve our outstanding university and its proud legacy,” Fulmer said. “The positive momentum established by our talented student-athletes, dedicated coaches, excellent staff, our great alumni and fans has united us all. I am excited to work alongside them as we push forward in pursuit of excellence in all sports.”

Jalen Hurts’ dad: if son loses Alabama QB battle, ‘he’d be biggest free agent in college football history’

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For the first time, the rumors surrounding the future of the quarterback situation at Alabama have some real legs.

Ever since true freshman Tua Tagovailoa replaced two-year starter Jalen Hurts in the national championship game, it’s been thought that the former would replace the latter as Alabama’s No. 1 quarterback moving forward.  Even with Tagovailoa battling a hand injury since very early in the spring, most observers are still of the opinion that the rising sophomore will win the job and be under center when Alabama opens the 2018 season against Louisville.

And, should that come to fruition?  Hurts’ father, Averion Hurts, very heavily intimated to Matt Hayes of Bleacher Report that his son, 26-2 as the starting quarterback for the Crimson Tide, would transfer if he loses a job he’s held for most of the past two seasons.

Coach Saban’s job is to do what’s best for his team. I have no problem with that,” Averion Hurts said. “My job is to do what’s best for Jalen—and make no mistake, Jalen is a quarterback, and he wants to play quarterback. He loves Alabama, loves Coach Saban and everything about that place. But he wants to play, and he will play…”

Averion stops mid-sentence because the idea of his son not playing for Alabama isn’t one he takes lightly. What if Jalen doesn’t win the job, he is asked?

He shakes his head slowly, answers begrudgingly. “Well, he’d be the biggest free agent in college football history.

Given the rumors swirling around Hurts, the Crimson Tide has been in pursuit of at least one graduate transfer at the position this offseason.  East Carolina quarterback Gardner Minshew announced his commitment to UA in February, only to flip a month later to Washington State.

Earlier this month, a terse Saban told the media he has no timeline on making a decision on a starter.

“First of all, I don’t have a time frame. So how could it affect it? You have a time frame. I don’t,” the coach said. “So from your perspective, maybe I should ask you the question. From my perspective, if there is no time frame, how does it affect it? I can’t answer that. But I don’t think any time a player gets hurt at any position that he should be penalized for that.”

Earlier this week, Saban once again indicated that Tagovailoa would likely be a non-participant in this weekend’s spring game, meaning any decision on a starter likely won’t be made until some point during summer camp.

Florida’s Cece Jefferson reportedly out four months after surgery

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One of the most heralded members of Florida’s 2015 recruiting class has hit a medical speedbump.

According to Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun, Cece Jefferson underwent surgery on his right shoulder earlier this week after injuring it during the Gators’ spring game.  As a result of that surgical procedure and the ensuing rehab, the defensive lineman is expected to be sidelined for the next four months.

Such a timeline would see Jefferson returning to on-field football action in mid-August, which would be right in the middle of summer camp.  Whether the lineman would be ready for the start of the 2018 regular season remains to be seen.

Jefferson was a consensus five-star prospect, rated as the No. 2 strongside defensive end in the Class of 2015; the No. 4 player at any position in the state of Florida; and the No. 7 player overall on 247Sports.com’s composite board.

This past season, Jefferson led the Gators with 13.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.  After considering early entry into the 2018 NFL draft, the 6-1, 242-pound lineman opted to return to Gainesville for one more season.