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


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

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,” 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.

LSU AD: ‘Les Miles is our coach and will continue to be our coach’

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers celebrates after defeating the Texas A&M Aggies 19-7 at Tiger Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Never mind people.  Move on.  There’s nothing to see here.

After a couple of weeks worth of speculation it appeared as if today’s game against Texas A&M would be Les Miles‘ last as LSU’s head coach.  There were at least two reports, though, that indicated a win would go a long way in helping to save Miles’ job.

With a 19-7 victory over the Aggies in the books, all eyes turned toward Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva.  And, in one fell swoop, the A.D. did something that could’ve been done a week or more ago instead of leaving his long-time head coach out to dry — he came out and publicly announced that Miles will remain on as the program’s head football coach.

“I ant to make it clear that Les Miles is our football coach and will continue to be our football coach,” Alleva stated. “My policy is to wait until the end of the season, and obviously it’s the end of the regular season right now.”

Certainly there’s more back-channel intrigue simmering just below and will likely surface in the coming days and weeks, but Miles will remain at LSU for the foreseeable future.  And with a seemingly weakened boss for good measure while his own personal profile among the fan base and his players — and some boosters, who haven’t appreciated how he’s been treated — has done nothing but grow stronger.

Simply put, it’d be hard to find a way to screw up a non-firing firing more than LSU just did.  And the worst thing about it for the university, it’s done nothing but embolden Miles and his supporters, making it potentially even harder to get rid of him if/when they actually do want to pull the trigger.

The speculation has already begun that Alleva’s job is on the line.  Here’s to guessing that his head likely won’t be the only one to roll because of how mismanaged the situation became.

Oklahoma makes playoff statement on behalf of Big 12

Dimitri Flowers, Trace Clark

If Oklahoma had anything to say about it Saturday night in Stillwater, the Big 12 is not in danger of missing out on the College Football Playoff this year. The No. 3 Sooners (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) locked up the outright Big 12 championship with a 58-23 victory over No. 11 Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) to close out regular season play. The ball is now in the playoff selection committee’s court. There is no way Oklahoma should not be in the top four when the final playoff rankings are updated after next weekend’s conference championship games.

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 17 of 25 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, but the Sooners offense was a two-man show between running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. The two each rushed for over 130 yards (136 yards for Mixon, 131 for Perine) and each scored two rushing touchdowns. Mayfield also got involved running the football, taking off for 77 yards and a touchdown of his own. Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh got the start at quarterback with Mason Rudolph banged up. Walsh passed for 325 yards and two touchdowns, but that was mostly while the Cowboys were attempting to catch up in the second half.

Oklahoma finished its season with the three best consecutive wins any College Football Playoff contender or participant likely will have played with wins over ranked opponents Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State. Two of those wins were on the road too. The Big 12’s back loaded scheduled needed one team to rise up and prove worthy of playoff hype, and Oklahoma turned out to be that team. Throw in a nice road win earlier in the season at Tennessee, and Oklahoma’s overall body of work is solid, perhaps even more so than that of Alabama’s. Michigan State could prove to be a different argument, as the Spartans could have road wins at Michigan and Ohio State to go with a win against Oregon and an undefeated Iowa if Michigan State wins the Big Ten Championship Game next week.

Oklahoma’s fate as the Big 12’s playoff hope was further cemented with Notre Dame falling out of the running with a close loss at Stanford. It is not likely Oklahoma would be at risk of dropping behind Stanford as a two-loss Pac-12 champion. Oklahoma would have the edge, even if Stanford blasted USC 59-0 next week in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Sooners will be a solid lock for one of the top four spots in the playoff, and may have a chance to wiggle up the rankings while not playing a game. Whatever the case, the Big 12 will be sending its one true champion to the playoff fun, once again showing the conference is not in need of expansion or a conference championship game. Some years it will work out, some years it will not. Such will be life in the Big 12.

Oklahoma will be fine with that.

Dalvin Cook, defense lead No. 13 Florida State to pounding of No. 12 Gators

Dalvin Cook, Justin Simmons, John Johnson

Keeping Florida State running back Dalvin Cook contained is no easy task, but Florida managed to do that for much of the night. But as many previous opponents can confirm, Cook is bound to make a spectacular play. He did just that with a run right up the middle of the defense and powered his way into the end zone in the fourth quarter of No. 13 Florida State’s (10-2) 27-2 victory over No. 12 Florida (10-2).

Cook scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the win, including one in the final minutes that served as the cherry on top of the sundae for the Seminoles. With 183 rushing yards, Cook ended his season with one last solid performance to merit discussion about a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy, although this one got off to a slow start by comparison as Florida’s defense was as good as it could be for a while. Florida State’s defense was also clicking on all cylinders in this one, holding the Gators to just 262 yards of offense. As Florida prepares to play for the SEC championship next week against Alabama, after this performance against the Seminoles and last week’s effort against FAU, there should be some serious concerns about Florida’s ability to do anything on offense that will challenge Alabama.

To be fair, Florida’s defense really was pretty good, although the final score may not suggest so. Cook’s two fourth quarter touchdowns turned a defensive battle into a bit more of a blowout than it really was for the majority of the night. Florida held Florida State to just two third-down conversions out of 13 and 304 yards of offense.

The win for the Seminoles clinched a fourth straight season with double-digit victories. Florida State may not be playing for an ACC title (Clemson will be facing North Carolina next week in Charlotte), but Florida State has not had four straight 10-win seasons since the height of the Bobby Bowden era from 1987 through 2000. Under Jimbo Fisher, Florida State has won at least 10 games in all but one season (2011). With that kind of track record it is easy to see why LSU, hypothetically, would be interested in Fisher as a possible successor to Les Miles, but Fisher says he is not leaving Tallahassee.

Florida State looked to be on track to pitch its first shutout of the Gators in the history of the series, but all of that changed in spectacular fashion. Sean Maguire had a ball knocked out of his hand as he was attempting to pass by Cece Jefferson. The ball wiggled loose and was not easy for anyone to pounce on. After a mad scramble for the ball 25 yards back from the line of scrimmage, it was Maguire who finally landed on it in the endzone for a safety, giving Florida two points. Florida looked to have a great return by Valdez Showers on the free kick return, but an illegal block in the back took the ball all the way back to Florida’s 14-yard line.

Florida State has now won three in a row against the Gators for the first time since stringing together three straight wins from 1998 through 2000. The win also marks Florida State’s third straight win in The Swamp, the first time Florida State has done that in the history of the rivalry.

Stanford keeps faint playoff hopes alive, extinguishes Irish’s in last-second win

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Devon Cajuste #89 of the Stanford Cardinal catches the ball while covered by Cole Luke #36 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Stanford Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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For both Notre Dame and Stanford, tonight’s game down on The Farm was one that each needed to keep any playoff hopes that they entertained alive.  In the end, it’s the latter that holds the lone remaining hope for the rivalry.

With both teams throwing punches on either side of the ball, it was the Cardinal that was able to withstand the body blows and leave Foster Field with a thrilling 38-36 win.  It wasn’t looking that way, though, after DeShone Kizer led the Irish on an epic 88-yard drive that was capped by his two-yard touchdown run with :30 left and gave the visitors a 36-35 lead.

Kevin Hogan, playing his last home game as a member of the Cardinal, proceeded to ensure he left one more indelible mark in the program’s history books.  Taking over at their own 28-yard line, a face-mask penalty on the Irish moved the ball out to the 43-yard line with :15 left.  An incomplete pass on first down was followed by the play of the game, a 27-yard Hogan-to-Devon Cajuste that put the Cardinal in field goal range; a Christian McCaffrey two-yard run positioned the Cardinal for a 45-yard field goal attempt, which Conrad Ukropina absolutely piped with no time left for the 36-35 win.

Hogan was superb throughout the night, finishing with 269 yards and four touchdown passes on 17-of-21 passing in a back-and-forth affair that saw the lead change six times.  The Irish had a pair of 100-yard runners, with Josh Adams leading the way with 168 and Kizer contributing 128.

The win improves Stanford to 10-2, and sends them into the Pac-12 championship game against USC with hopes of a playoff berth still intact, however faint they may be.  Even if the Cardinal can take down the Trojans, they would still need significant upheaval ahead of them — think Clemson, Iowa and Alabama losing their title games — in order to even begin any type of realistic playoff talk.

But still…

For Notre Dame, it’s their second loss of the season and, with no championship game to leave another impression on the committee, it appears their playoff hopes have been officially dashed.  Still, given the myriad injuries with which the Domers have had to deal, it’s a minor miracle that they were even in the playoff discussion this late in the season, and a testament to Brian Kelly and his coaching staff.