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.

Alabama’s Jonathan Allen wins Nagurski Trophy

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 22:  Jonathan Allen #93 of the Alabama Crimson Tide sacks Trevor Knight #8 of the Texas A&M Aggies  at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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One of the most dominant defensive players in the country has gotten his just due. I’m thinking it might not be the last.

Very late Monday night, the Football Writers Association of America announced that Alabama’s Jonathan Allen has been named as the 2016 Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner, given annually to the best defensive player in the country.  The defensive end was one of five finalists for the award, players that included a teammate, linebacker Reuben Foster, as well as Florida State cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers and Clemson defensive end Christian Wilkins.

Seven times the last eight years, a Crimson Tide player has been a finalist for the award.  This is the first time a player from that school has taken home the trophy.

“I’m honestly speechless right now. I never in a million years thought I would even be up for this award, yet win it,” Allen said. “I’ve got to thank all the guys back at Alabama, God, my parents, my girlfriend, everyone who’s had a part in shaping me and making me who I am. This is just a tremendous award.”

Allen’s statistical resume is encapsulated by the FWAA:

Allen is second on the Crimson Tide’s career sack list with 26.5 and has nine sacks for 72 yards in losses this season. He has 15 quarterback hurries, has broken up two passes, and blocked a kick. He has scored touchdowns on two fumble recoveries – a 75-yard return against Ole Miss and a 30-yard return against Texas A&M.

His worthiness, video-wise, can be summed up thusly:

Ole Miss WR Damore’ea Stringfellow jumping early to NFL

COLLEGE STATION, TX - NOVEMBER 12:  Damore'ea Stringfellow #3 of the Mississippi Rebels makes a one handed catch in the fourth quarter as he gets behind Nick Harvey #1 of the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field on November 12, 2016 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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Not surprisingly, one of the most physically-gifted wide receivers in the country is making himself available to the next level.

Ole Miss confirmed Monday that Damore'ea Stringfellow has decided to forego his senior season and will enter the 2017 NFL draft. The receiver had long been expected to make the leap; the official announcement served to confirm the obvious.

“I cannot begin to express to Rebel Nation what an honor and privilege these last three years have been putting on the Ole Miss jersey each Saturday,” Stringfellow said in a statement. “The fans’ endless support, both on and off the field, has allowed me to grow and develop into the athlete and man that I am today.

“In that light, after much reflection and prayer, it pleases and saddens me to announce that I have decided to forgo my senior year and declare for the 2017 NFL Draft to pursue my dream of playing on Sundays. I would like to thank my family, coaches, professors and most of all the fans that have given me the love, courage and much needed prayer to go out and make Oxford proud. I truly would not have this amazing opportunity without you.”

After a May of 2014 departure from his original collegiate home, Washington, that revolved around an off-field legal incident, Stringfellow had initially stated he would be transferring to Nebraska.  Less than a month later, though, the receiver landed at Ole Miss.

The past two seasons, after he sat out the 2014 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, the 6-2, 219-pound Stringfellow caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I am grateful to Damore’ea for his commitment to our program,” said Rebel head coach Hugh Freeze. “He has a tremendous opportunity, and we are excited for him to enter the next phase of his life. We look forward to seeing another Rebel receiver in the NFL.”

Lamar Jackson, OU tandem headline list of five Heisman finalists

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 22:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs with the ball during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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The Heisman Trophy finalists were announced in a made-for-awkward-television moment during ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown on sight from MetLife Stadium. The Heisman trust revealed a list of five finalists including: Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook.

Described my some (read: yours truly) as Allen Iverson in cleats, Jackson’s slippery explosiveness led to 4,928 yards of total offense and a nation-leading 51 touchdowns responsible for. He is regarded as the overwhelming favorite to win the stiffarm trophy.

Mayfield has thrown for 3,669 yards with 38 touchdowns against eight interceptions. His 197.75 quarterback rating is on pace to break the FBS single-season record, and he pilots an offense that ranks third nationally in scoring and yards per play. Mayfield’s efforts helped Oklahoma win its second straight Big 12 title and complete the first 9-0 run in the league’s 6-year round-robin era.

Peppers is the swiss army knife of a threat for the Wolverines. He ranks second on Michigan’s elite defense in tackles and tackles for loss while also returning punts and kicks and serving as a running back on offense.

Watson has led Clemson to back-to-back ACC championships and College Football Playoff appearances while firing 37 touchdown passes and throwing for 3,914 yards on the year.

Mayfield’s top target, Westbrook recorded 74 receptions for 1,465 yards and 14 touchdowns on the year. Westbrook’s inclusion makes Oklahoma the first team to send teammates to New York since Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush did the same for USC in 2005. They’re just the fifth set of teammates to do so overall (Leinart and Bush did so twice.)

That’s also the last time the SEC did not place a player in the top five vote-getters.

The Heisman Trophy ceremony will be held Saturday night in New York.

Army breaking out WWII-themed uniforms for Navy game

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 12:  The Army Black Knights sing their alma mater near their fan section after the game against the Navy Midshipmen at Lincoln Financial Field on December 12, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.The Navy Midshipmen defeated the Army Black Knights 21-17.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Army will carry with it a 14-game losing streak against Navy when it takes the M&T Bank Stadium field on Saturday. But the Black Knights will do so in some some great uniforms.

The academy on Monday unveiled the special uniforms they’ll wear against Navy that honor the accomplishments of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II.

Known as the All-Americans, the 82nd Airborne was “[h]ighly trained and highly disciplined, the soldiers of the 82nd Airborne were asked to spearhead the invasions of Italy, Normandy, and Holland. With little to no reinforcements or relief in the most adverse conditions, their physical and mental toughness was pushed to the limits. Their unwavering brotherhood and intense dedication to success, ultimately led to mission accomplishment.”

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While Navy has won 14 straight and 15 of the past 16, four of the fast five games have been decided by six points or less, including last season’s 21-17 decision.

Knowing the recent history of this game, expect a response from Navy at some point this week.