Jim Delany issues statement on Irish/ACC venture

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At least twice in the past two decades or so, Notre Dame has rebuffed Big Ten overtures to shed its football independence and become a full-fledged conference member in all sports.

With the announcement today that the Irish will be moving, with the exception of hockey, its Olympic sports to the ACC from the Big East as well as playing five football games annually against conference members, it appears any shot the Big Ten had of landing its prized piece of the football expansion puzzle has taken a significant if not fatal blow.

In a statement released shortly after the announcement was made, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany wasn’t the least bit shocked by the development… and hinted that the agreement between the Irish and the ACC is yet another sign that expansion in other conferences could still be in the offing.

“Today’s announcement by the ACC that Notre Dame will join the conference to compete in all sponsored sports with the exception of football was not a surprise. Both the Big 12 and the ACC have openly expressed an interest in adding Notre Dame to their conference under such a condition. 

“The announcement by the ACC is further indication that the tectonic plates underlying conference affiliation are still warm. As always, we will continue to monitor the landscape. 

“We are very pleased with both our current conference membership and our conference structure.”

As noted by ESPN.com Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg, Notre Dame had also sought from Delany’s conference the same arrangement it reached with the ACC, although the Big Ten wanted all Irish sports — including football — or nothing.

Notre Dame already has an ACC-esque scheduling relationship with three Big Ten football schools — Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue —  as well as annual matchups with USC and Navy.

Add in future series against the likes of Texas (2015-16, 2019-20), BYU (five-game series, dates to be determined), Stanford (2016-19) and Miami (2016-17) among others, it’s unclear how the Irish will juggle future slates with a five-game ACC schedule in the offing beginning in 2015 at the latest.

Take 2016, for instance.  Already, the Irish have 11 games scheduled — all of the above-mentioned teams minus BYU, plus current ACC member Boston College and future ACC members Pittsburgh and Syracuse.  Add in the five games with the ACC — two/three/four if BC/Pitt/’Cuse are part of that year’s ACC-Irish rotation — and, well, some series will be facing the scheduling guillotine.

Which ones?  Michigan and Michigan State seem safe, especially the former.  Given the recruiting presence it gives the football program on the West Coast as well as being one of the most storied rivalries in the sport, the game vs. USC appears to be an untouchable.  Willingly giving up the Navy rivalry would be something the Irish would be loath to do as well.

Everything else, though, would appear ripe for pruning.  Which ones remain to be seen.

Illinois adds longtime NFL assistant; DC Hardy Nickerson given beefed-up title

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There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.

Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach.  Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.

“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”

Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season.  This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.

In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.  Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.

Texas to give Todd Orlando raise to $1.7 million per year

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Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the raises.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the University of Texas System Board of Regents are set to approve several athletics-related contracts next week, headlined by athletic director Chris Del Conte’s multi-million dollar six-year deal and a hefty raise for Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

Orlando, who joined Tom Herman when he came over from Houston prior to last season, was already one of 15 assistants who were making over $1 million in 2017. He was courted by several programs this offseason however and the cost to retain him on the 40 Acres didn’t come cheap as his amended contract is set to pay him a reported $1.7 million as part of a new four-year deal.

Also on tap for the board? The Statesman notes that new offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand has a three-year contract awaiting approval worth nearly $640,000 annually.

While all those new contracts do add up for the Longhorns, it’s not like the burnt orange can’t afford it all as one of a handful of programs who topped $200 million in revenue last year.

Texas A&M athletic director: ‘Resource issues in ACC vs. SEC’

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CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd recently stopped in College Station to do a deep dive on one of college football’s biggest storylinesJimbo Fisher’s $75 million move from Florida State to Texas A&M.

While the money — some $90 million for the Aggies when all is said and done — is one of the more eye-catching parts of the story that are broken down, the comments from some at the school probably won’t go unnoticed by those in Fisher’s former conference.

“I’m not going to put words in Jimbo’s mouth, but there are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC,” Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward told CBS Sports, answering part of the question as to why the national title-winning head coach made the move from one of the sport’s blue-bloods to one of the oft-labeled “sleeping giants.”

We’re guessing those in ACC territory will not take kindly to those comments and note that some schools in the league have no problem raising cash, such as Clemson when it comes to their new football facility that has everything from mini-golf to sleep specialists. They also would probably point out that the conference has just as many national titles in the past five years as the SEC does too.

Still, when you look at the larger picture, there’s little question that the SEC is ahead of the ACC when it comes to revenues as a whole and the slow pace of facilities upgrades in Tallahassee was one of the many public grumbles that Fisher made known about before leaving FSU.

Something says all those ACC-SEC football games in 2018 will see Woodward’s comments brought up again — especially when Clemson heads to College Station to play Texas A&M in Week 2.

UCF’s Shaquem Griffin wins inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award

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UCF has won another trophy for last season and this is one they can very proudly display in the school trophy case.

That’s because recent Knights linebacker Shaquem Griffin was named the winner of the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award during a ceremony in the Dallas area on Thursday night. Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph were also finalists for the new award.

Griffin was one of the best players in college football for UCF despite the fact that his left hand was amputated when he was younger because of a congenital condition called amniotic band syndrome. A tenacious pass rusher, he was the AAC’s defensive player of the year in 2016 and was recently named the defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl as his team capped off a perfect season.

The award honors “exemplary leadership” on and off the field from a Division I college football player and was presented by Witten’s foundation. The former Tennessee star and All-Pro tight end with the Dallas Cowboys started the award last year and serves somewhat as the college version of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.