Penn State University student Laura Lovins and fellow students react while watching a live broadcast of the announcement of the NCAA penalties

‘We Were… Penn State’: Sanctions debilitate, cripple Nittany Lions

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Right or wrong, or how such a precedent will impact the future of the sport, NCAA president Mark Emmert, at the discretion of his bosses, took the unprecedented step Monday of leveling historic sanctions on the Penn State football program.

There will be days and weeks and months — hell, even years — to digest and debate whether a criminal matter that will bleed into civil litigation should fall under the purview of the NCAA.

What’s not up for debate and needs little digestion? The sanctions levied against the school’s football team are staggering in scope and potential to impact the program for a decade, if not much, much longer.

The fines and loss in revenue totaling roughly $73 million — a $60 million fine from the NCAA and the loss of $13 million in Big Ten bowl revenue, all of which will go to charities to benefit victims of child sex abuse — as well as the four-year bowl ban drew a majority of the headlines, but it was two other provisions in the sanctions that have the potential to damage the Nittany Lions for the long haul.

First and foremost, the Nittany Lions were stripped of dozens of scholarships, beginning next year, over the next four years, as well as a cap on the number of scholarship players on its roster beginning in 2014. From the NCAA’s release:

For a period of four years commencing with the 2013-2014 academic year and expiring at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 academic year, the NCAA imposes a limit of 15 initial grants-in-aid (from a maximum of 25 allowed) and for a period of four years commencing with the 2014-2015 academic year and expiring at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 academic year a limit of 65 total grants-in-aid (from a maximum of 85 allowed) for football during each of those specified years. In the event the total number of grants-in-aid drops below 65, the University may award grants-in-aid to non-scholarship student-athletes who have been members of the football program as allowed under Bylaw 15.5.6.3.6.

For perspective, FCS football programs are permitted 63 scholarship players in any given year.  As we noted earlier, Penn State football will essentially be an FCS program in terms of size for several years, and yet will be facing Big Ten and nonconference opponents with the full complement of 85 scholarship players.

Recruiting experts are already weighing in on the long row to hoe the first-year coaching staff will face now and on down the road, because of both the scholarship losses and postseason ban.

“Kids want to go to college to play in championship games and the postseason,” Rivals.com Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. “Now that it’s been taken off the table, it’s just going to absolutely destroy Penn State’s recruiting ability in the short term. Certainly when you reduce scholarships, that hurts recruiting because you can’t recruit as many players. But when you’re talking about how kids view Penn State as a potential place to play football, not having a chance to play in the postseason for pretty much the duration or a large chunk of their career is going to be a huge, huge deterrent.”

There was even more gloom from another of the recruiting website’s experts.

“The sanctions change everything,” national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. “The sanctions are the one thing I said way back when could splinter this class and could ruin future classes. That’s what kids care about. The scandal itself hurt recruiting last year, but it wasn’t going to stop kids from going to Penn State. Sanctions will do that.”

While that’s bad enough, another stipulation contained in the sanctions could be even more damaging, at least in the short-term.  Again, from the NCAA’s release:

  • Football student-athletes who transfer will not have to sit out a year of competition. Any incoming or currently enrolled football student-athlete will be immediately eligible upon transfer or initial enrollment at an NCAA institution, provided they are admitted and otherwise eligible per NCAA regulations.
  • Penn State will release any incoming student-athletes from the National Letter of Intent.
  • Permission-to-contact rules will be suspended. Penn State cannot restrict in any way a student-athlete from pursuing a possible transfer. Student-athletes must simply inform Penn State of their interest in discussing transfer options with other schools. Interested schools also must inform Penn State of their intention to open discussions with the student-athlete.
  • Official and unofficial visit rules will be loosened. Any incoming or currently enrolled football student-athletes interested in taking an official or unofficial visit will be permitted to do so during the 2012-13 academic year, no matter how many visits they took during their recruitment. Institutions seeking to provide an official visit to a student who already visited the school as many times as NCAA legislation allows can seek relief from the NCAA on a case-by-case basis.

In other words, the NCAA has declared it’s open season on any and all current or incoming Penn State players, essentially creating a free-agent frenzy that has the potential to utterly dwarf what transpired at USC three years ago.  In the case of the Trojans, any junior or senior was permitted to transfer with no restrictions; a Penn State player in any class — including incoming freshmen — is now free to leave the school.

Additionally, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany heavily intimated during a teleconference Monday morning that players will likely be permitted to transfer within the conference  as well, further exacerbating the program’s plight.  For some reason, I get the feeling that the likes of Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Michigan Brady Hoke have already perused PSU’s roster and commenced a game of “need it… got it… need it… need it… got it…”

Commitments to future recruiting classes are also in jeopardy, with one verbal from the Class of 2013 decommitting within minutes of the sanctions being made public.

“It was headed for a top-15 class,” Farrell said of the group of 2013 commits PSU had previously landed. “Now all bets are off.”

The lone saving grace for head coach Bill O’ Brien , who reiterated his commitment to the school earlier?  As of a couple of hours after the announcement of the sanctions, it was still unclear how many if any players would or will take advantage of the liberal transfer rules, although one PSU athletic official told CFT today that they are “bracing for a dozen or more” departures in the coming days and weeks.

In the run-up to today’s announcement, one report stated that Penn State may have preferred the death penalty over what was about to hit them.  While that’s still a stretch — just ask SMU about the long-lasting impact of shuttering the football program for a year or two — it’s certainly not as laughable a notion as it first appeared.

The sum total of the sanctions that slammed headfirst into Penn State today portends a decade of climbing out of the scholarship/transfer hole.  Regardless of whether it takes X number of years north or south of a decade to rebuild Penn State, the football program, one thing seems certain: Penn State, the university, will never ever be the same, regardless of what happens on a field a hundred yards long.

And, based on the Freeh report, that may very well be the best thing to come out of this whole sordid saga of pedophilia and cover-ups and putting a football program — and its legendary head coach — above young victims of sexual abuse.

As for the football program itself, the entity that has become synonymous with the university, there will be several operative words attached to it for the next several years and beyond.

“Rebuilding.”  “Adapting.”  “Moving forward.”

And, perhaps most importantly, “irrelevant.”  Given what 10 or more victims went through at the hands of a former Penn State assistant and convicted serial pedophile, for them that’s very much apropos.

Arizona signee My-King Johnson set to become FBS’ first active openly gay scholarship player

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats watches from the sidelines during the Territorial Cup college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona signee My-King Johnson probably caught most Wildcats’ fans attention with his impressive name when it was listed among the 23 signees for the football program on National Signing Day.

The 6-3, 225 pound defensive end’s name is set to become a little more well known however.

In a story on Saturday in the Arizona Daily Star, Johnson confirmed that he would become the first active openly gay scholarship player in FBS when he enrolls over the summer down in Tucson.

“I do feel like when I say that, it can put a target on my back,” Johnson told the paper about going public with his sexuality. “But whatever.”

Johnson is far from the only gay athlete to play major college football but does appear to be one of the first to go public on the matter prior to suiting up for a major program. Missouri’s Michael Sam came out once he entered the NFL Draft. Just up the road in Tempe, where Johnson went to high school, Arizona State walk-on Chip Sarafin told his teammates in 2014.

From the Daily Star:

When Johnson told UA assistant Vince Amey about his sexuality while being recruited, the coach’s reaction — “We want you to be a Wildcat” — was exactly what he wanted to hear.

Johnson picked the Wildcats despite offers from numerous FBS programs, including many in the Pac-12. Perhaps coincidentally, he really jumped on the radar of the coaching staff when he sacked quarterback Rhett Rodriguez, an Arizona signee himself (and the son of head coach Rich Rodriguez), three times in a high school game.

It certainly seems as though Johnson is very comfortable telling his story to a wider audience than just his teammates and coaches by doing the interview with the Daily Star and the environment down in Tucson has been very welcoming to all the new attention that it will bring. As the Wildcats begin spring practice this month, chances are the coaching staff is probably just as excited about the prospect of Johnson making an instant impact on defense this fall after seeing plenty of issues on that side of the ball during a 3-9 campaign in 2016.

Central Michigan AD taking same position at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Wide receiver Samajie Grant #10 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates after scoring on a two yard rushing touchdown against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the fourth quarter of the Territorial Cup college football game at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona has its replacement for former athletic director Greg Byrne.

Central Michigan AD Dave Heeke is set to take the same position in Tucson with the Wildcats, the school announced Saturday afternoon.

“I couldn’t be more excited to be part of the Arizona Athletics family. It is truly an honor to be named the new Vice President for Athletics and have the opportunity to return to the prestigious Pac-12 Conference,” Heeke said in a release. “I want to thank Dr. Hart and those involved with the search process for their confidence in my ability to lead one of the premiere athletics departments in the country. This program is about excellence and we will continue to focus on achieving at the very highest level athletically and academically, while creating the finest experience in the country for our student-athletes.

Heeke has been in Mount Pleasant since early 2006 and found plenty of success with the MAC school across numerous sports. In football, he notably hired Butch Jones to replace Brian Kelly when the latter left for Cincinnati and has seen the Chippewas make a bowl game eight times during his tenure.

While he is a Michigan native, he’s no stranger to the way things operate out West having spent 18 years at Oregon. While he held a variety of roles in Eugene, he eventually became a senior associate athletic director with the Ducks before departing for CMU.

Arizona had a vacancy in their athletic leadership ever since Byrne left to become Alabama’s AD not long after the national title game in January.

UTEP’s Theron Aych named new receivers coach at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10:  Wide receiver Trey Griffey #5 of the Arizona Wildcats catches the ball in front of defensive back Jaterious Pouncey #48 of the Grambling State Tigers for a 34 yard touchdown in the third quarter at Arizona Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Spring practice is already underway in Tucson but it took until the end of this week for Arizona to finally have a complete offensive coaching staff.

The Wildcats announced on Saturday that Theron Aych would be taking over as the team’s new receivers coach, filling a vacancy created when Tony Dews left for West Virginia.

Aych helped provide a nice boost to the Miners’ passing game in his one season in El Paso and spent five seasons at Division II Angelo State prior to that. He served as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach with the Rams during his five-year stint before moving up to the FBS level.

The Pac-12 is no new experience for Aych though, as he served as a graduate assistant at Washington over a decade ago.

Aych should have his work cut out for him this spring with the team featuring plenty of young players at the receiver position while also dealing with the loss of standouts like Trey Griffey and reliable veteran Nate Phillips both gone.

Colorado rounds out new defensive staff with hire of former Purdue DC Ross Els

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 22:  Head coach Mike MacIntyre of the Colorado Buffaloes looks on prior to the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks defeated the Buffaloes 44-10.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Just in the nick of time, Mike MacIntyre has rounded out his new defensive staff for the 2017 season.

The Buffaloes announced on Friday evening that former Purdue defensive coordinator Ross Els would be joining the program and serving as inside linebackers coach. The release notes that Els’ paperwork was completed in time for him to join the team for their second practice of spring ball.

“Coach Ross Els brings a lot of energy,” MacIntyre said.  “He has great experience as a coordinator, positions coach and special teams coach, and we’re really excited about having his expertise in those phases in our program.”

Els adds plenty of experience to Boulder, having coached linebackers at New Mexico State, Ohio and Nebraska. In addition, he was the Boilermakers’ defensive coordinator  and safeties coach last season.

The move completes the staff for the Buffs after seeing a number of coaches depart to Oregon with former coordinator Jim Leavitt.