Sun Belt commissioner remains ‘optimistic’ about future of conference

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Which is hard to do if you’re Karl Benson, the former WAC commissioner who saw the Mountain West pick apart his conference over the course of the past couple of years of realignment. With the news yesterday that FAU and Middle Tennessee would be leaving the Sun Belt for Conference USA — that was made official today in a release —  well, it’s been tough sledding for Benson as of late.

Yet Benson claims to be ‘very optimistic’ about the future of the Sun Belt in a statement released Thursday regarding the departures of FAU and MTSU:

“While I am disappointed that Middle Tennessee State University and Florida Atlantic University have elected to depart the Sun Belt Conference, the SBC is still very well positioned for the future and I remain very optimistic that the momentum that has been created in the past six months will continue to grow. The continuing 10 members of the SBC are committed to excellence and I am confident that the SBC will take advantage of these latest changes in the landscape. As I have stated many times in the past six months, the SBC will be a major player in the future, especially within its geographic footprint.

As for future members, there are several outstanding universities that have indicated interest in joining the SBC. While we have conducted research on these universities in the past six months, we will now focus on identifying the ones that will be the best “fit” for the conference and the ones that will contribute immediately in achieving our goal of being the best of the FBS conferences that currently do not receive automatic qualification into the BCS.

The future is still very BRIGHT for the SBC and I look forward to working with the leadership of the SBC in the coming days, weeks and months to continue the growth and development of this outstanding athletic conference.”

FAU and MTSU are the third and fourth departures from the Sun Belt to C-USA, joining North Texas and FIU. Those teams will be replaced by the trio of Georgia State, Texas State and UT-Arlington next season. Idaho and New Mexico State, formerly of the WAC, and Georgia Southern are also possible additions to the Sun Belt

UNLV ‘very excited’ to share Las Vegas stadium with Raiders

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The biggest news of the day in the NFL has a decidedly college football connection.

By a 31-1 vote, NFL owners approved the Raiders move from Oakland to Las Vegas later this decade.  The new stadium that will eventually serve as the home for the NFL club is expected to be ready for play for the 2020 season.

As expected, it will also serve as the new home for Sin City’s FBS team, a fact that UNLV’s hierarchy was quick to point out and highlight in the hours after the vote was officially confirmed.  Below are the statements from the three main characters involved with the football program.

Len Jessup, UNLV President
UNLV and the entire Rebel family welcome the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas. We look forward to a long-term partnership with the Raiders and the Stadium Authority Board to give UNLV football access to a world-class stadium and accompanying game day experience that will rival the best in college football. We also recognize and thank the numerous stakeholders – including the Adelson family – who invested their time and energy toward this vision. This is an historic day for Nevada and another example of how Las Vegas continues to reinvent itself.

Tina Kunzer-Murphy, UNLV Athletics Director
We are very excited to welcome the Raiders to our great city of Las Vegas. Our community is on the rise and that has clearly been recognized by the NFL owners with today’s vote. We can’t wait for the day our UNLV football program has a new home, sharing the new world-class stadium with the Las Vegas Raiders. What a great day for the NFL, our city and our university.

Tony Sanchez, UNLV Football Head Coach
Today is a huge development for UNLV Football and the city of Las Vegas. Sharing a state-of-the-art stadium with the Raiders is another thing that will allow us to recruit at a high level. The combination of an NFL stadium and our upcoming Fertitta Football Complex brings so much energy to this program and campus. As someone who has lived here for eight years, I’m also excited for this community. This is a great place to live and the pride of being an NFL city will make it an even better place.

In addition to being tenants in a new state-of-the-art stadium, the university will soon begin construction on an on-campus football practice facility.

There are five FBS teams that will share stadiums with NFL teams on at least a part-time basis in 2017 — UMass (New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium), Miami (Miami Dolphins, Sun Life Stadium), Temple (Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field), Pitt (Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field) and USF (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium).  Georgia State had shared the Georgia Dome with the Atlanta Falcons but are moving to the new Turner Field this season, while San Diego State will still call Qualcomm Stadium home even as the Chargers have bolted the facility for Los Angeles.

There has been chatter that both Temple (HERE) and USF (HERE) could find themselves in a position to build an on-campus stadium at some point down the road — although the latter could extend its agreement with its current home as it continues to evaluate its long-term plans.

The Los Angles Rams are also temporarily crashing at the home of the USC Trojans, Memorial Coliseum, until their new stadium is completed.

Kaylee Hartung leaves ESPN sidelines for CNN

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ESPN’s roster of college football talent has taken a bath lately. Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman broke up their critically acclaimed team for NFL work at different networks. Brad Nessler left for CBS. Brent Musuberger left for Vegas. Samantha Ponder has joined McDonough on the Worldwide Leader’s NFL team and, now, Kaylee Hartung is leaving the network as well.

Hartung confirmed her departure from ESPN on Monday. Though she did not name her next employer, it’s been an open secret within the industry for nearly a month Hartung will leave for CNN.

“Last night I worked my final event with ESPN,” Hartung announced on her Twitter page. “The decision to leave a job I love and take on a new challenge has been incredibly emotional but the overwhelming feeling I have today is gratitude. I am so grateful for the experience I’ve had within the ESPN family for 5 years. I’m grateful for the people I’ve worked with who have supported me, made me a better reporter, made me a better person and became my friends. I’m grateful for the coaches, athletes, staffers, and university officials who’ve shared their stories with me and let me be a part of their magical moments. I’m grateful for the fans who have embraced me and shared their passion with me. Thank you to everyone who’s been a part of my life during this incredibly fun and exciting chapter. I can’t wait to see what this next chapter has in store… Now I get to be a fan of you all!”

Hartung started with Longhorn Network and since moved to SEC Network and the mothership. Her final event for the network was Sunday night’s Women’s Elite Eight match between Mississippi State and Baylor. Hartung worked in the political media prior to landing with the Longhorn Network as an associate producer for the CBS program Face the Nation.

Final Four forces South Carolina to postpone indoor facility groundbreaking

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File this one under the most first world of all problems: the South Carolina football program is having to adjust its plans because the Gamecocks’ basketball team has been more successful than anticipated.

With Frank Martin‘s hoops headed to Phoenix for this weekend’s Final Four and taking all the Palmetto State’s attention with them, Will Muschamp‘s football program has been forced to alter what had been a big day planned.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to break ground on their announced indoor practice facility; those plans have now been postponed.

With only six days between South Carolina’s clinching of a Final Four berth and the football team’s planned Garnet-White game, the spring game will have to remain slated for Saturday. But it has been bumped forward to a noon kickoff.

Muschamp did not make the trip to Madison Square Garden for Sunday’s Elite Eight win (Florida’s Jim McElwain was in attendance) and Saturday’s spring game will also preclude his attendance, meaning the head football coach must wait until a possible national championship berth to support the basketball team in person.

With Brandon Harris off the board, Texas reportedly looking at former ND QB Malik Zaire

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Texas pursued former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris, but Harris is no longer interested in being pursued.

After Harris’s commitment to North Carolina, Tom Herman has reportedly turned his interests to the next logical choice in the graduate transfer market — former Notre Dame signal caller Malik Zaire.

The news comes from Chip Brown of Horns Digest who, unfortunately hid the goods behind a pay wall.

The move would be an interesting one considering Zaire’s history with the Longhorns. Zaire played like a Heisman candidate in a 38-3 crunching of Texas on the opening night of the 2015 season, hitting 19-of-22 passes for 313 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. As we know, Zaire was lost for the year to a broken ankle one week later, but managed to win back the starting job in training camp before the ’16 season.

Zaire didn’t last long, though, hitting 2-of-5 passes for 23 yards while being credited for no gain on three rushes, giving way to DeShone Kizer in an eventual 50-47 double overtime loss to the Longhorns in Austin to open last season.

Zaire would toss only 18 more passes as a Fighting Irish quarterback.

If Zaire reciprocates Herman’s interest he would immediately join an open quarterback battle with incumbent Shane Buechele and true freshman Sam Ehlinger. At the time of his South Bend departure Zaire was reportedly considering Wisconsin, Baylor and recently off-the-market North Carolina.