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..

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

James Conner
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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.