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..

Matt Wells makes tweaks, addition to Utah State staff

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 09:  Head coach Matt Wells of the Utah State Aggies watches his team warm up before their game against the UNLV Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium on November 9, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Utah State won 28-24.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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A couple of tweaks to coaches already in the building as well as an addition from outside the program has given Matt Wells‘ Utah State a different look heading toward spring, the school announced Tuesday.

Passing-game coordinator and wide receivers coach Jovon Bouknight has been promoted co-offensive coordinator of the Aggies. Bouknight, entering his eighth season at USU, will continue to coach receivers.

The other co-coordinator, Luke Wells, brother of the head coach, will continue to serve in that capacity, but will give up his job as tight ends coach. Instead, the co-OC will take over as quarterbacks coach from Josh Heupel, who left Logan last month to become the coordinator at Missouri.

“We are excited to announce Jovon and Luke as our co-offensive coordinators,” said Matt Wells in a statement. “They both have extensive experience in our offense and have been successful position coaches during their time at Utah State.

“As we move forward with our offense, I will be heavily involved in the game planning and will call the plays during games. We have time during spring ball to work through this and I am excited to work with Jovon and Luke in making our offense better.”

In addition to the shuffling on the offensive side, Wells made an addition on that side as Steve Farmer was introduced as USU’s line coach.  The past six seasons, Farmer served as offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Louisiana-Monroe.

“We are excited to announce the hiring of Steve Farmer as part of our coaching staff,” said the head coach. “Steve has an extensive background in playing and coaching the offensive line, as well as success as an offensive coordinator. He fits very well into our scheme and has had experience in spread offenses and coordinating the run game. We welcome Steve, his wife Amy, and their two children to the Aggie family.”

Jim Harbaugh ponders the attractiveness of whining in firing shot across SEC’s bow

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines reacts to a roughing the kicker call against his team during the first quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Say what you want about Jim Harbaugh, but he certainly makes college football a more interesting sport.  And, arguably more importantly, he keeps his Michigan football program front and center in the 24/7/365 news cycle that the game has become.

Case in point?  Spring practice.

During National Signing Day last week, UM revealed that they intended to spend a portion of spring practice this year parked at a locale in Florida.  Specifically, Harbaugh would haul his Wolverines to the Sunshine State during the school’s spring break to conduct a handful of practices in the heart of SEC country.

Suffice to say, that’s not sitting well with the SEC as the conference has asked the NCAA to block teams from holding spring practices over that school’s spring break.  The league’s commissioner wants to “draw a line and say ‘that’s not appropriate.'”  The media in that part country has followed suit.

Harbaugh’s reaction?

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Harbaugh has proven in his one year in Ann Arbor that, if there is a line, he’s going to push it.  And if there are buttons to be pushed in the southern part of the country?  He’ll gladly take care of that as well.

Lawsuit: Vols player put ‘hit’ on UT teammate who helped rape victim

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 01: The Volunteer mascot waves the flag in the edzone after a Tennessee touchdown as the Tennessee Volunteers defeated  the Mississippi Rebels 27-10 at Neyland Stadium on October 1, 2005 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The football culture at Tennessee is rapidly coming under heavy fire and intense scrutiny, with yet another disturbing layer emerging as more details of a lawsuit come to light.

Tuesday, six unnamed women who claim they were victims of sexual assault at the hands of UT student-athletes filed a federal lawsuit in which they claimed the university “has created a student culture that enables sexual assaults by student-athletes, especially football players, and then uses an unusual, legalistic adjudication process that is biased against victims who step forward.” Four football players, three former and one unnamed current, are mentioned in the suit.

Also mentioned in the suit is a former UT football player, Drae Bowles, who it’s alleged was assaulted by his Vols teammates after he had “taken Plaintiff Doe IV to the hospital the night of her assault and who had supported her decision to report the incident to the authorities.” As it turns out, The Tennessean reports, Bowles was also attacked a few days later at the football facility by the same teammates who had attacked him the first time.

The twin attacks were just part of a pattern of alleged retribution against Bowles by his teammates, as well as what’s been described as “deliberate indifference” on the part of university officials and athletic department personnel.  From the paper’s accounting of the lawsuit, with the “Williams” in question being Mike Williams, a former UT defensive back who’s facing trial next month on rape charges:

While the woman, a student-athlete, was meeting with executive senior associate athletics director Jon Gilbert, senior associate athletics director Mike Ward and her coach, she received a message from her roommate “who was witnessing at that moment several football players jumping” Bowles, the lawsuit says. The woman informed the athletics officials of the incident and was told they would “look into it,” according to the suit. The lawsuit says “athletic coaches were present during that altercation.”

But, the lawsuit says, Williams told police in November 2014 that then-Tennessee defensive back Geraldo Orta had “a hit” out on Bowles.

According to the lawsuit, Orta, a Valdosta, Ga. native, told University of Tennessee police he felt “Bowles betrayed the team and that where (Orta) came from, people got shot for doing what Bowles did.”

Orta told police in an interview conducted during an investigation into the sexual assault claims against Johnson and Williams that he approached Bowles in Smokey’s Café, the athletics dining facility. Orta admitted getting “in (Bowles’) face” and saying “some threatening things,” according to interviews with police cited in the lawsuit.

Orta also told police that then-Tennessee star Curt Maggitt confronted Bowles in the team locker room “before the team was instructed by head coach Butch Jones not to talk to him and before Bowles was given time away from the team,” the suit says.

In interviews with police, Maggitt said he confronted Bowles and said he purchased alcohol for the party at which the Jane Doe plaintiff was allegedly assaulted, the lawsuit says. Neither Orta nor Maggitt were disciplined, according to the lawsuit.

Shortly after the alleged attacks in November of 2014, the first of which came one day after Plaintiff Doe IV was allegedly raped, Bowles transferred out of the football program and continued his playing career at Chattanooga.

The alleged victim helped by the player claimed in the lawsuit that “the incidents involving Bowles contributed to a culture that intimidated victims of sexual assault by football players.”

Cyclones’ third-leading rusher, receiver no longer on team

STILLWATER, OK - OCTOBER 4:   Wide receiver D'Vario Montgomery #8 of the Iowa State Cyclones tries for a touchdown pass as cornerback Ramon Richards #18 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys defends October 4, 2014 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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Ahead of the start of spring practice next month, Iowa State’s returning offensive production has taken a significant hit.

Wednesday, ISU announced in a press release that wide receiver D'Vario Montgomery and running back Joshua Thomas are no longer a part of first-year head coach Matt Campbell‘s Cyclones football program. Montgomery was dismissed by Campbell for the standard unspecified violations of team rules, while Thomas has decided to transfer out.

Last season as a redshirt junior, Montgomery was third on the team in receiving yards (335) and receiving touchdowns (three), while his 27 receptions were fourth. A year earlier, he led the Cyclones with 605 yards receiving.

Montgomery came to ISU as a transfer from USF in 2013.

Thomas, meanwhile, was second among Cyclone running backs with 295 yards rushing, and led the team with seven rushing touchdowns. With the emergence of Freshman All-American Mike Warren (team-leading 1,339 yards), however, the freshman Thomas has opted to transfer to another program that might give him a better opportunity to be a feature back.

Thomas is actually the second ISU running back to transfer in less than a month. In late January, it was confirmed that Tyler Brown, who began 2015 as the starter, had decided to leave Ames as well.