Paterno family files appeal against NCAA for PSU sanctions

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What would anything related to Penn State be without something from the Paterno family?

Eleven days after NCAA president Mark Emmert took unprecedented steps by levying sanctions against Penn State in the wake of the Freeh report, the family of longtime coach Joe Paterno is taking a unique initiative of its own by filing an appeal against NCAA over the sanctions.

The punishments included a $60 million fine, scholarship loss, bowl ban and probation.

More on what this means later, but here is the entire notice, courtesy of Onward State.

To Whom It May Concern:

On behalf of my clients, the Paterno family, who are the living representatives of Joseph V. Paterno and his estate, we file this notice of intent to appeal the NCAA’s consent decree entered against The Pennsylvania State University. Pursuant to NCAA Bylaw 32.10.1, the Paterno Family notes that the consent decree was publicly released on July 23, 2012. Pursuant to NCAA Bylaws 32.1.5 and 32.10.1.2, Mr. Paterno qualifies as an involved individual because he is named in the NCAA’s consent decree as well as the Freeh report, which provided the alleged factual basis for the consent decree. Finally, pursuant to NCAA Bylaw 32.10.1, the Paterno family requests the opportunity to submit its appeal in writing, and it requests an in-person oral argument before the Infractions Appeals Committee.

The estate undertakes this appeal to redress the enormous damage done to Penn State, the State College community, former, current and future student and student athletes, Joe Paterno and certain others involved, as a result of the unprecedented actions taken by the NCAA.

As will become evident in a thorough and impartial review, the NCAA acted hastily and without any regard for due process. Furthermore, the NCAA and Penn State’s Board Chair and President entirely ignored the fact that the Freeh Report, on which these extraordinary penalties are based, is deeply flawed because it is incomplete, rife with unsupported opinions and unquestionably one-sided. The NCAA and Penn State’s leadership, by accepting and adopting the conclusions of the Freeh report, have maligned all of the above without soliciting contrary opinions or challenging a single finding of the Freeh report. Given the extraordinary penalty handed out, prudence and justice require that scrupulous adherence to due process be observed and not completely ignored.

Both the University leadership and the NCAA have said that they had to take extreme and immediate measures to demonstrate respect for the victims and minimize the chance of any similar misconduct from occurring again. These goals are the right ones, and they embody objectives we fully endorse. But those objectives cannot be achieved by a truncated process that wrongly assigns blame by substituting opinion for fact.

If there is culpability in this case, a hearing will help expose it. Due process will not hide the truth and will only illuminate the facts and allow for thoughtful, substantiated conclusions, not extreme and unfounded opinions, such as those offered in the Freeh Report and relied upon by the NCAA.

This matter may be the most important disciplinary action in the history of the NCAA, and it has been handled in a fundamentally inappropriate and unprecedented manner. To severely punish a University and its community and to condemn a great educator, philanthropist and coach without any public review or hearing is unfair on its face and a violation of NCAA guidelines.

Accordingly, we submit this appeal in pursuit, finally, of due process. A fair hearing on the merits is in the interests of justice and fairness for all involved.

We look forward to your acknowledgement of receipt of this timely appeal. In your acknowledgement, we would appreciate confirmation of the exact date triggering the 30-day period for us to submit a written response in support of our appeal.

Respectfully, 

J. Sedwick Sollers III

Let’s get two things out of the way: 1) just about everything the Paterno family says in a statement is ridiculous and self-serving; 2) so be willing to look past all the lawyer rhetoric and hyperbole.

I know, it’s difficult. If the Paterno family was doing this just to be insufferable, I would personally debate even giving them the satisfaction of your attention. But, the notice does have a couple of points that could make for a compelling case, albeit  one that won’t pass.

For one, the release states the “NCAA acted hastily and without any regard for due process.” Technically, that’s not off-base. Some might use the word “unprecedented” instead, but the fact is the NCAA bypassed normal investigative steps to punish Penn State based on another entity’s work. If you read this site often, you know there are others who agree with the Paterno family in that regard.

By refusing to conduct its own investigation, the NCAA is putting all its faith into the conclusions of the Freeh report. Granted, the report is well-documented with appendices and fact-findings — it’s no middle school book report on “The Catcher in the Rye” — but it is one side of the story. The letter from today also states “this matter may be the most important disciplinary action in the history of the NCAA.” I think it’s safe to say the notice doesn’t need the word “may”; it is the most important disciplinary action in the history of the NCAA. And to not have a separate investigation and conclusion?

Baloney.

If the Association is going to take the initiative to punish Penn State for alleged criminal acts, then go through the entire process.

All that being said, the Paterno family doesn’t have a case here. The NCAA and Penn State agreed to the punishment, and the articles and bylaws of the NCAA rule book on ethics are so vague it’s impossible to argue against them.

Also, the NCAA sanctions aren’t subject to appeal. So, there’s that.

A.J. Brown powers Ole Miss to Egg Bowl win over No. 15 Mississippi State

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No. 14 Mississippi State lost their quarterback, lost the game, lost the Egg Bowl trophy and lost a year’s worth of rivalry trash talk in one fell swoop on a chilly Thanksgiving evening at home. To add insult to injury, they lost all that at the hands of a Starkville native to boot as star receiver A.J. Brown powered Ole Miss to their sweetest victory of the year over their in-state rivals 31-28.

The Rebels needed just three plays and 39 seconds to open the scoring in what was perhaps the team’s best all-around game in several weeks, showing no signs of any tryptophan-induced sluggishness following a traditional turkey day meal. Brown finished the game with 167 yards receiving and a 77 yard touchdown to cap off a terrific return to his hometown in opposing colors, while tailback Jordan Wilkins also chipped in with another 110 yards and two scores on the ground to pace the offense.

The old Landshark defense also made an appearance, with the second worst team in all of FBS when it came to forcing turnovers managing to secure a whopping five turnovers and three sacks.

While the loss was undoubtedly disappointing for the Bulldogs, most of the team’s attention was on their star quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald. He entered the game on the verge of another 2,000 yard passing/1,000 yard rushing season but was tackled awkwardly on a three yard run early in the first quarter. Replays showed his ankle to be facing a much different direction than it should as part of a gruesome scene and the signal-caller was carted off to the team’s medical facilities shortly thereafter amid a raucous applause from fans on both sides.

Fitzgerald later returned to the sidelines to cheer on his teammates but it certainly appears that his promising season is over as Mississippi State turns their attention to a bowl game in the coming weeks.

Stepping in at quarterback was freshman Keytaon Thompson, who was much more of a threat with his legs than his arm until a few late drives. He finished the night with 195 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a team-high 121 yards rushing (with another score) in relief. Tailback Aeris Williams managed to rack up 82 yards and a score but faced a stacked line of scrimmage at every turn given the injury to his veteran teammate.

While the injury to Fitzgerald overshadowed the game, the backdrop of Ole Miss’ NCAA infractions case loomed large over the rivalry as much as the game itself. The two schools’ fan bases have been quite chippy and MSU linebacker Leo Lewis — a central figure in the case — was kept in check to the tune of two tackles and a half a sack as the Rebels didn’t attack him like some thought they would.

Perhaps more pressing to some Bulldogs fans is if that was the last Egg Bowl they would see with head coach Dan Mullen patrolling the sidelines. His name has been linked to openings at Florida, Tennessee, Nebraska and others in the past few weeks and there is a growing expectation that the most successful coach in school history could have just donned the maroon and white for the final time in a loss.

That’s of no concern across the way as interim coach Matt Luke did a good job rallying the team to their sixth win of the season. The Rebels are not bowl eligible as part of self-imposed sanctions but the satisfaction of beating their rivals probably takes the sting out of that fact just a little bit, especially with a Starkville native like Brown leading the way on Thursday night.

Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald suffers gruesome ankle injury to spoil first half of the Egg Bowl

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The Egg Bowl has returned to Thanksgiving but the game hasn’t gone quite as planned for No. 14 Mississippi State, as they trail Ole Miss 10-6 after a low-scoring first half of play thanks to a shocking injury that brought both sides of the heated rivalry to their feet in unison.

That came early in the first quarter when Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was tackled after a three-yard run, suffering a gruesome ankle injury in the process that saw his foot point in a direction it certainly wasn’t supposed to. He was put in an air cast and carted off the field to perform x-rays immediately afterward and needless to say will not return to the game.

The productive signal-caller was just 1-of-5 passing with an interception and 16 yards rushing when he went down with the injury. Fitzgerald was approaching the 2,000 yard passing and 1,000 yard rushing marks for the season heading into the game and received plenty of support from his fellow football players around the SEC and beyond after suffering such a horrific-looking injury that appears to knock him out for the rest of 2017.

Freshman Keytaon Thompson replaced Fitzgerald behind center and went 3-of-5 passing for 32 yards and an interception. He’s known for his running ability at this stage and did manage a team-high 65 yards on the ground, including a 32 yard scamper. Running back Aeris Williams was fairly limited facing a stacked box against a new quarterback and ran for 41 yards in the half as turnovers (three of them) really hampered MSU in the half.

With Ole Miss ineligible for postseason play even if they won on Thursday night, it was not at all surprising to see the Rebels play better than they have in a long time. The team needed just three plays and 39 seconds on their opening possession to find the end zone and were punching far above their weight defensively too. Wide receiver A.J. Brown was the big play threat once again for the offense, with five catches and 90 yards after just a half of play. In the process, he set a new school single-season record for receiving yards and joined kicker Greg Wunderlich (all-time school leader in FG’s) in the record books for the visitors as they look to  get a little bit of payback for last year’s 55-20 loss in Oxford.

The two programs have split the last six meetings in the hotly contested Egg Bowl rivalry and both appear locked into another close one after a half of play. It’s too bad that an injury to an all-SEC player had to spoil things early on but both the Bulldogs and the Rebels will have to put that behind them as they emerge from the locker room hoping to secure a win after years worth of bad blood.

Odell Beckham Jr. gifts LSU players recently unveiled custom shoes ahead of regular season finale

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LSU has produced plenty of NFL stars in recent years but few identify with the Tigers quite like New York Giants wideout Odell Beckham Jr. does. The Baton Rouge native recently released his first “lifestyle” shoe with Nike last week and has been hitting the press circuit almost as hard as the rehab room as a result to showcase the new kicks.

Not one to forget where he went to school and blossomed into a first round pick, Beckham filmed a video for LSU’s football team this week and really gave the Tigers something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving by giving every player on the team a version of the shoe to wear when they’re suiting up in cleats.

The color isn’t quite a true match for LSU gold but it’s certainly pretty close and even comes with the longitude and latitude of Baton Rouge inscribed. You can probably bet that the team will be wearing them to Tiger Stadium prior to taking on Texas A&M on Saturday in the regular season finale for both sides.

Wisconsin breaking out the plaid in battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe against Minnesota

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No. 5 Wisconsin continues to play for an undefeated record and hold out hopes of making it into the College Football Playoff this week but the Badgers are also chasing something pretty important too when they take on Minnesota on Saturday: Paul Bunyan’s Axe. One of the best rivalry trophies in the sport has resided in Madison for the past 13 years but might carry on bigger implications given what’s at stake for the visitors when they arrive in Minneapolis, especially facing off against a Gophers team hoping to make it to a bowl game with another win.

Paul Chryst and company aren’t just treating this as any other Big Ten game however and teaming up with Under Armour to go well beyond ludicrous… and all the way to plaid. Well, “lumberjack plaid” to be precise, as the accents on their uniforms, gloves and shoes will all have a different spin on their normal colors.

While it’s a subtle difference, it is a pretty slick look for the Badgers as they take on their rivals. No word yet on what P.J. Fleck and the home team will break out in response but hopefully they rise to the occasion that the Axe commands.