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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.”

Former Heisman winner Rashaan Salaam passes away

15 Oct 1994: COLORADO RUNNING BACK RASHAAN SALAAM BREAKS INTO THE OPEN FIELD DURING THE BUFFALOES 45-7 VICTORY OVER THE OKLAHOMA SOONERS IN A BIG EIGHT GAME AT FOLSOM FIELD IN BOULDER, COLORADO.
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Former Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam has passed away, a family spokesperson announced Tuesday. He was 42.

Salaam was found dead in a Boulder, Colo., park on Monday night. Authorities said there were no signs of foul play.

“The Buff Family has lost an outstanding young man and a great Buff today,” CU athletics director Rick George said in a statement Tuesday. “We are heartbroken for Rashaan and his family and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this very difficult time.”

Salaam was best known in college football for winning the 1994 Heisman Trophy, beating out Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter, the late Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair and Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins after a season in which he rushed for 2,055 yards and 24 touchdowns on 7.61 yards per carry. Salaam also claimed the Walter Camp Player of the Year award and the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back after helping the Buffs to a season in which they finished 11-1, beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and finished the season ranked No. 3 in the AP poll.

Salaam was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bears in the 1995 NFL Draft and became the youngest player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. His career fizzled from there, though, as a broken leg derailed his career and his yearly totals dwindled to 496, 112 and later two yards with the expansion Cleveland Browns in 1999. Salaam later tried comeback efforts in the XFL and CFL before calling it quits.

Oddly enough, Salaam is the first Heisman winner in more than half a century to pass away.

“He was very coachable,” former CU coach Bill McCartney said. “He had a happy heart. I loved being around him. He didn’t take himself too seriously, and he always credited those around him, especially his offensive line. What I liked about him is that he had a sparkle in his eye. He was upbeat and positive.”

Clemson’s Brent Venables claims Broyles Award as nation’s top assistant

CLEMSON, SC - OCTOBER 3: Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables of the Clemson Tigers reacts after a play during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Clemson Memorial Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)
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Before attempting to slow down Ohio State in one of the College Football Playoff semifinals, Brent Venables has collected a little bit of hardware.

Tuesday afternoon in Little Rock, the Clemson defensive coordinator was named as the 2016 winner of the Broyles Award.  The award, in its 21st year, is handed out annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.

Venables had been a finalist for the award on two other occasions.

Venables was one of four defensive coordinators up for this year’s award, with Jeremy Pruitt of Alabama, Jim Leavitt of Colorado and Don Brown of Michigan being the others.  The final finalist was Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

Last year’s winner was Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.  Venables was a finalist in 2015 as well.

Ex-USC QB one of two transferring from Arkansas

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 26:  Arkansas Razorbacks flag girl during the Southwest Classic at AT&T Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Maybe the third time will be a charm for Ricky Town.

Bret Bielema has confirmed that Town and another Arkansas player, running back Damon Mitchell, have decided to transfer from the Razorbacks. According to the head coach, the quarterback’s decision to transfer stems from a desire for a better shot at playing time.

“He’s expressed he wants to find some place next year that can get him on the field and let him showcase his skills,” Bielema said of the redshirt freshman, who didn’t attempt a pass this season.

That some place is expected to be a junior college for the 2017 season. If Town takes that tack, he would then have two seasons of eligibility remaining at the FBS level starting in 2018.

Originally a USC signee, Town announced in mid-August of last year that he would be transferring from the Trojans. Less than a week later, after considering Florida as well, Town landed in Fayetteville.

Town was a four-star member of the Trojans’ 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 5 pro-style quarterback in the country; the No. 20 player at any position in the state of California; and the No. 127 player overall according to Rivals.com.  In January of 2014, Town pulled his verbal commitment from Alabama and gave it to USC.

With Cody Kessler firmly entrenched as the starter, Town was widely expected to take a redshirt as a true freshman. He was an early enrollee who took part in spring practice, but had fallen behind fellow 2015 signee Sam Darnold in the signal-calling pecking order. Darnold, of course, eventually took over the starting job this year and has the Trojans riding an eight-game winning streak heading into their Rose Bowl matchup with Big Ten champion Penn State.

Mitchell, meanwhile, will be leaving the Hogs as a graduate transfer. Bielema says the junior already knows where he will continue his playing career, but will allow the player to make the announcement when he’s ready.

This season, Mitchell gained 18 yards on seven carries. He totaled 17 carries for 105 yards in his career. Last season, he caught six passes for 84 yards and a touchdown.

Oklahoma Supreme Court orders Joe Mixon punch video released

NORMAN, OK - DECEMBER 3: Running back Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrates a touchdown against the Oklahoma State Cowboys December 3, 2016 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Oklahoma State 38-20 to become Big XII champions. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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A lengthy and protracted legal battle has seen yet another development.

Tuesday morning, The Oklahoman writes, “[t]he Oklahoma Supreme Court… ruled a surveillance video of Sooner running back Joe Mixon‘s punch must be released.” The Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters had sued for the video’s release.

In mid-August of 2014, Mixon was suspended by Oklahoma for the entire 2014 season, a punitive measure that meant the running back would be excluded from any and all team activities.  The one-year suspension came about after Mixon was accused of punching a woman in a late-July confrontation, breaking four bones in her face and leaving her unconscious.  Media covering OU viewed a copy of the security tape that caught the exchange, including the knockout punch, between the woman and Mixon; Mixon’s attorney had previously claimed the altercation was preceded by racial slurs.

The OU hierarchy, including president David Boren, athletic director Joe Castiglione and head football coach Bob Stoops, viewed a copy of the video prior to suspending Mixon.

In late October, a plea deal was reached in the case that helped Mixon avoid a trial. As part of that deal, Mixon was given a one-year deferred sentence, 100 hours of community service and will be required to attend cognitive behavior counseling.  In February of last year, Mixon was welcomed back to the Sooners.

Five months ago, the victim of the punch, Amelia Molitor, sued Mixon.  Shortly after two-thirds of her lawsuit, Mixon penned a letter of apology to Molitor.

This season, Mixon leads the Sooners in rushing yards (1,183) and is second in receptions (32) and receiving yards (449).  His 15 total touchdowns (eight rushing, five receiving, one kick return, one passing) were second on the team.