Liberty next up to make jump up a level in football

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Already in the past several years, a handful or two of Div. 1-AA (FCS) football programs have made the jump to the Div. 1-A (FBS) level.  This year alone, four programs — South Alabama (Sun Belt), Texas State (WAC), UMass (MAC) and UT-San Antonio (WAC) — will be making the jump.

Georgia State will be making the move to the big-boy level of football next year, as will Charlotte in 2015, while Appalachian State is on the verge of doing the same.

Now, another program is prepared to take that step up the football ladder.

During his commencement address Saturday, Liberty University chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. (pictured, left) announced that, as the Lynchburg News & Advance wrote, the Flames are ready to make the leap to the Football Bowl Subdivision.  The decision is the result of a feasibility study that commenced in December, shortly after the hiring of former Kansas head coach Turner Gill (pictured, right) for the same position with the Flames.

While a press conference will be held at 1 p.m. Monday afternoon to address the decision, Falwell Jr. issued a press release confirming the news he broke during the commencement speech.

“Competing at the highest levels of collegiate competition has been the vision for Liberty University since its founding in 1971,” Falwell said in a press release. “It is exciting to watch the fulfillment of that dream taking shape as Liberty now has the financial resources, facilities, academic support and athletics professionals necessary to move forward.”

Even as Liberty, a private Christian university founded over 40 years ago by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, has the desire to move up a level, they cannot do so without an official invitation from a 1-A conference, which is much the same position in which Appalachian State finds itself.

The News & Advance notes that the Sun Belt and MAC are the most likely options, and the school is hoping that the positive end to the feasibility study will prompt conferences to take an interest in the football program.

One plus for the two conferences mentioned is stadium size.  While Williams Stadium seats just 19,200 fans now, there are plans to expand the stadium to a capacity of 30,000 in the very near future.  Such a number would put LU behind just three of 12 schools in the MAC* — Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan at 30,200, Central Michigan at 30,199 — and make them very competitive attendance-wise in the Sun Belt — seven of the 10 schools currently in the conference have stadiums with listed capacities between 30,000 and 31,000, with new member South Alabama topping the league at just over 40,000.

(*13th member UMass will play its home games at Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL’s New England Patriots)

Adding Liberty would expand the MAC’s footprint to seven states, the Sun Belt’s to eight.

Regardless of where Liberty ultimately lands, the school is confident it’s ready to take that next step with its football program.

“There has always been great commitment from our university to our NCAA Division I athletics programs and everything we have done has been with intent and purpose,” athletic director Jeff Barber said in his statement. “Our university and athletics program have gone through tremendous transformation during the past five years, and because of this, we are ready for FBS football.”

(Photo credit: Liberty athletics)

Jake Butt’s draft tumble will net him $543k insurance payout

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The decisions to sit out their team’s respective bowl games made by Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey had little impact on either’s draft stock as both were selected in the Top 10 Thursday night.  Jake Butt‘s decision ended to play up costly him dearly, although he will see a (wee) bit of a financial cushion softening the blow.

Butt suffered a torn ACL in Michigan’s Orange Bowl loss to Florida State late last year.  At the time, Butt was considered one of the top tight end prospects for the 2017 NFL draft, with most experts considering him, at worst, a second-round selection.  Most, though, had him ticketed as a first-round pick in a deep class at the position.

Unfortunately, Butt saw his draft stock plummet because of the injury, with the talented tight end falling all the way to the fifth round as he was selected with the No. 145 overall pick by the Denver Broncos Saturday afternoon.

The injury and subsequent fall cost Butt millions of dollars.  The sliver of a silver lining is that Butt had taken out an insurance policy that will pay him a tax-free sum of $543,000, Darren Rovell of ESPN.com reported.

That said, Butt saw what would’ve been a potential signing bonus in the neighborhood of $4 million drop to just shy of $400,000.  Even considering the insurance payout, the injury will have cost Butt, at bare minimum, $3 million.

It could also have significant ramifications for the sport moving forward as, with the recent examples of Butt, Fournette, McCaffrey and even Jaylon Smith (HERE) fresh in their memories, star players could, more than ever, give significant consideration to skipping out on their team’s bowl game — maybe even a playoff game.

Suspended Michigan State staffer receives another contract extension

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Michigan State has added another one-month extension to the contract of suspended football staffer Curtis Blackwell as the school continues to investigate several sexual assaults involving the Spartans.

A schools spokesman confirmed the extension to the Detroit Free Press on Friday.

The move comes on the heels of a previous one-month contract extension for Blackwell that came at the end of March. His official title is that of the team’s director of college advancement and performance and he was hired by head coach Mark Dantonio back in 2013 after running a number of major recruiting camps in the region.

Blackwell was originally suspended back in February as the school and police began multiple investigations related to sexual assaults. According to reports, one Michigan State staff member had an arrest warrant issued for obstructing an investigation but he was never publicly identified by the school.

Probes into the matter, including a Title IX investigation, remain ongoing in East Lansing. The football team recently wrapped up practice missing over a dozen players in the spring game so it appears this wide-ranging scandal that has embroiled the Spartans is not going to be over anytime soon.

Ex-USC coach finally lands court date with NCAA over Reggie Bush case

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After years and years of meandering through the court system, former USC running backs coach Todd McNair finally has his day in court with the NCAA.

ESPN is reporting that the two parties will meet in Los Angeles County Superior Court on April 18, 2018. The trial will finally get underway next year after nearly a decade of appeals on both sides.

McNair was the Trojans’ running backs coach during the glory days under Pete Carroll and responsible for coaching or recruiting many of the team’s top players. He was one of the few links to the program that the NCAA cited when determining that former star Reggie Bush received extra benefits, later leading to brutal sanctions back in 2010. McNair was given a one-year show-cause as a result of the Committee on Infractions findings and never coached again after the school let his contract expire shortly thereafter.

That wasn’t the end of the story however, as McNair later filed a defamation lawsuit against the NCAA in which he accused the association of violating protocol and showing bias against himself and the program in order to level unprecedented sanctions. Documents in the case have continued to seep out that have given credence to McNair’s case and the NCAA’s lawyers have fought bitterly at every turn in order to prevent the trial from actually getting underway.

Those efforts were unsuccessful however and it appears an already nasty legal battle is still not over. It remains to be seen if the trial will even happen, as a settlement could eventually take place between now and next April. If it does indeed go in front of a jury though, it just might be one of the most fascinating insights into one of the biggest NCAA scandals of the past few decades.

Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Jonathan Giles announces transfer from Texas Tech

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Thursday may have been a high point for the Texas Tech football program upon learning that former quarterback Patrick Mahomes was taken in the top 10 of the 2017 NFL Draft.

On Friday afternoon though, the Red Raiders dipped right back down as star wide receiver Jonathan Giles took to Twitter to announce that he was leaving the program and transferring out of Lubbock.

Giles was a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist a season ago after catching 69 passes for 1,158 yards and 13 touchdowns. Those numbers led the team in each category despite trailing off a bit down the stretch as Tech missed out on a bowl game.

Playing time could have been a big factor in the decision to leave the program as both Cameron Batson and Keke Coutee emerged as the top receiving targets and Giles was relegated to second-team status coming out of spring practice.

Tech’s Air Raid system and NFL quarterbacks had a lot to do with Giles’ big numbers but it’s fairly rare to see such highly touted and productive wideouts hit the transfer markets. While the decision probably isn’t what some Red Raiders fans wanted to hear on Friday, the receiver probably won’t be lacking for options when it comes to his next stop.