Pac-12 safety push to focus in part on reducing practice contact

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Over the past few years and especially over the past several months, a significant amount of time and effort has been focused on the safety of student-athletes at the collegiate level.  Specifically, how to further reduce the risk of Eric LeGrand-type injuries as well as head injuries at all levels of football.

Monday afternoon, one of the most powerful conferences in the country became the latest to take a significant step in the arena of player safety.

In a release, the Pac-12 announced that it has launched a comprehensive student-athlete health initiative that will be implemented in time for the 2013-14 academic year.  The initiative, unanimously approved by the conference’s presidents and chancellors over the weekend, “will build upon current efforts to improve the health and safety of Pac-12 student-athletes while establishing new activities,” the release stated.

“The group acknowledges that it is impossible to eliminate all injuries, but has developed the initiative to find ways to reduce injuries today, share current best practices and latest studies, and conduct research to uncover new ways to keep student-athletes as safe as possible,” the conference added.

Two of the four prongs of the initiative are directly related to football.

The one that will likely garner the most attention is the creation of a formal policy limiting the amount of contact in practice.  While a uniform policy has yet to be finalized — that’s expected to happen at the Pac-12 football media day July 26 — the conference stated that its group “will look at guidelines around contact in practice to ensure that student-athlete well-being is being closely monitored, both in the amount of contact and in providing our student-athletes and coaches with ample opportunity to teach and learn the correct tackling methods during the spring and preseason.”

Additionally as related to the sport this site covers, the conference will continue the push to reduce injuries from the neck up by creating a Head Trauma Task Force.  That group, headed by the Pac-12’s General Counsel and Director of Football and will include coaches, administrators and doctors from Pac-12 institutions, will look to find ways to limit damage and exposure to student-athletes.

“Pac-12 institutions house the leading medical trainers, doctors, and scientists working to enhance student-athlete health and well being,” said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott in a statement. “Our athletic departments and coaches have been very progressive in this area and are deeply committed to advancing these efforts,” he added. “This initiative seizes on our opportunity to embrace, support, and coordinate all these efforts and build a framework to advance them with new resources, expertise and funding.”

Other prongs of the initiative include the following:

  • Student-Athlete Health & Well-Being Research Program: Under this new program, the Pac-12 will establish a steering committee of top doctors and researchers from Pac-12 institutions, convene a summit in early 2014 where doctors and researchers share research and joint initiatives, and commit $3.5M in research grants for projects at Pac-12 institutions aimed at improving student-athlete health and well being.
  • Student-Athlete Health Conference: This Pac-12 will lead and enhance the annual Student-Athlete Health Conference. This meeting has been in existence for 10+ years as a forum for doctors and medical trainers from Pac-12 institutions to share best practices, review ongoing research studies and evaluate Pac-12 policies. In its first year as a Pac-12 event, the Pac-12 will introduce new speakers and programs to advance collaboration of all 12 universities, and establish an official process for implementing recommendations put forth by the conference.

“The health and well-being of our more than 7,000 student-athletes competing within the Pac-12 each year is of paramount importance,” said Pac-12 CEO Group chairperson Ed Ray. “This new initiative is a great step towards taking advantage of the full resources of our research institutions for the benefit of our student-athletes.”

Florida State planning new facility to catch up with Clemson

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Florida State completed a major facility overhaul not even three years ago. But the thing about arms races is that when someone pulls ahead of you it means you are behind.

And Clemson officially pulled ahead earlier this year with the opening of its glistening, slide-equipped new home.

As such, Jimbo Fisher told reporters Friday that Florida State now has plans to construct its own standalone facility, going as far as meeting with an architect.

“We need room. We need meeting space, player development areas. You’ve got to have those areas and also to show off your history. That’s what Florida State is known for, being a great football program,” Fisher told ESPN. “You can never stand still. If you’re not evolving and moving, people are going to bypass you. You’ve got to keep going. The great programs never settle. We’re always looking for that edge. It’s going to help recruiting. It’s going to help player development. We get a lot of guys that are three-and-out, so we’ve got to have space for them to get them developed as quickly as we can so we can get production out of them.”

While saying that it’s a “competitive” race and not an arms race, Fisher also tried to sell that the plans for the ‘Noles’ new home were unrelated to Clemson’s new facility.

“I don’t care what they’ve got,” Fisher said. “I’m worried about what we’ve got. If I don’t think it’s going to make a difference in our program for these kids to develop as people, students and players, I won’t ask. I didn’t grow up with a lot. I was taught if you need it, do what you’ve got to do to be successful but don’t waste. I’m not going to do that. But there’s things you’ve got to have to be successful and that’s the next step, in my opinion.”

Former Michigan TE Jake Butt says college players should be able to cash in on likenesses

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For the record, Jake Butt shouldn’t “be paid” in the strictest sense of the term — to receive a paycheck for services rendered. Rather, the former Michigan tight end believes players should be able to profit from their statuses as college athletes when the NCAA, its conferences and member schools are already doing the same.

(Having an extremely marketable last name probably contributed to the forming of this opinion.)

“Something needs to change,” Butt told ESPN.com at Michigan’s pro day. “I don’t want a check from the NCAA. I don’t know if that’s something that’s likely. But the big thing is they say you can’t use your name to benefit. I can’t go into my favorite breakfast spot, Benny’s, I can’t go in there and get a free breakfast because I’m only getting that because of my name.

“That’s not to say I can’t make friends with the owner because of the person I am. I’m a good guy, a really good guy — sociable guy, made a lot of friends. I can’t accept anything free for that. They said I can’t go down the street, the example one of them gave us is you can’t go to [get] tires and negotiate your price from $600 to $500 because that’s only because of your name. But Joe Schmo can go down the street and he can negotiate his price. It’s kind of ridiculous to me.”

Butt was a victim of the cruelest twist in circumstances possible for a college athlete — a season-ending injury at the end of his final season. A senior, Butt was one of the top tight ends on the draft board before suffering a torn ACL in the Wolverines’ Orange Bowl loss to Florida State. The Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top tight end will be drafted next month, but the damage to his bank account resulting from the injuries is significant. Being able to profit from his own name and image would have served as insurance against the loss of value he suffered due to the injury.

“I should be the example of why college athletes should be getting paid in college or why I can’t use my name to benefit off my likeness in college,” Butt said.

“Why can I see ‘I Like Jake Butt and I Cannot Lie,’ I see those shirts and I’m living paycheck-to-paycheck in college. Who knows? Heaven forbid something happens in the NFL, can I really benefit off of it when it was at the most? No, I can’t.”

Baylor strength coach apparently no longer with the program

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It seems every bit of news related to Baylor football nowadays has to do with the school’s on-going sexual assault scandal but it appears there is one bit of information coming out of the program that doesn’t have something to do with that.

A school spokesperson told ESPN on Friday that football strength coach Kaz Kazadi has been “reassigned to a role outside the athletic performance staff.” A report from the local ESPN Radio affiliate in Waco indicates that the move will eventually have the coach leaving the school altogether.

Kazadi spent nearly a decade with the Bears and played a big role in the team’s on-field turnaround under the former coaching staff. Several former players took to Twitter on Friday to express their shock over the loss of one of the cornerstones of the team in recent years.

After the hire of Matt Rhule this offseason, it isn’t too surprising to see some turnover among those staff members connected to the previous regime. Baylor’s new head coach brought most of his strength staff with him from Temple so it was probably only a matter of time before Kazadi moved on, though the timing of the quasi-announcement (the Bears started spring football last weekend) is somewhat interesting.

Either way, it appears Baylor will have a new direction in the weight room going forward.

Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh has ditched his Dockers for another

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Peanut butter and jelly. Milk and cookies. Batman and Robin. Maize and blue. Jim Harbaugh and khakis.

All are iconic combinations, but it appears the latter is undergoing a few changes right now.

The Michigan head coach’s affinity for a pair of khakis has been so strong over the years that it’s become almost comical how much he likes the style of pant. Heck, he even got a commercial out of it a few years ago when he specifically started getting outfitted with Dockers brand khakis.

Despite being a paid endorser though, it appears that Harbaugh has dropped the famous Levi’s brand version of khakis to attack the day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind in another pair of pants.

Not only is the switch from Dockers to Lululemon result in a lot more comfort for the Wolverines coach, it’s probably a bit more of a hit to the ol’ wallet than dropping by Walmart for a pair of khakis off the shelf. It probably doesn’t make a huge difference for Harbaugh though given that he’s the highest paid coach in the country but it might result in a few more trips to the mall.

Either way, what it does mean is that now we demand a new commercial featuring Harbaugh and khakis. After all, if you’re upping the clothing game, you’ve got to up the ad game as well.