Bill O'Brien

NCAA to reduce scholarship sanctions on Penn State

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Penn State’s — and state lawmakers’ — prolonged fight with the NCAA over historic sanctions levied on the football program is about to bear some fruit.

The NCAA announced Tuesday that, “[d]ue to Penn State University’s continued progress toward ensuring athletics integrity,” its executive committee has agreed to gradually restore scholarships the football program had lost in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. The move to restore scholarships, arguably the most crippling of the sanctions, was based on a recommendation by George Mitchell, who had been hired by the NCAA as an independent “integrity monitor.”.

The original sanctions called for a cap of 15 scholarships beginning in 2013 and running through 2016; the NCAA limit at the FBS level is 15.  Additionally, whereas FBS programs are permitted 85 scholarship players, the Nittany Lions would be allowed just 65.

The new directive from the NCAA, however, will allow Penn State to increase by five its scholarships in 2014, increasing to the full allotment of 25 the following year.  The program will be back up to its full allotment of 85 scholarship players beginning in 2016 — at least two full years ahead of what the original sanctions had called for — after moving to 75 in 2014 and 80 in 2015.

“The decision is the result of a thoughtful and deliberative process to ensure we reached the most appropriate outcome,” said Rita Hartung Cheng, who chaired the recent Executive Committee meetings regarding Senator Mitchell’s annual report and chancellor of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. “During our discussions, we had the benefit of engaging with Senator Mitchell’s expert perspective and the views of our Big Ten colleagues.”

Other sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban and $60 million fine, remain in place, although the press release stated that the NCAA “may consider additional mitigation of the postseason ban in the future depending upon Penn State’s continued progress.”

Even if the bowl ban remains in place, the restoring of scholarships is by far the biggest win for the football program in general and head coach Bill O’Brien specifically.  That specific sanction has crippled O’Brien and his coaching staff on the recruiting trail; the additional scholarships will now allow the program to make bigger inroads in the recruiting game, the lifeblood of any program, and begin scaling back its “run-on” program beginning as early as this recruiting cycle.

O’Brien has been a big part of the progress over the past couple of years as Penn State continues to climb out of the hole created by the Sandusky scandal.  That progress was noted by embattled NCAA president Mark Emmert.

“The goal has always been to ensure the university reinforces clear expectations and a daily mindset within athletics that the highest priority must be placed on educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” said Emmert in a statement. “The Executive Committee’s decision to restore the football scholarships provides additional education opportunities and is an important recognition of Penn State’s progress.”

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett was happy with the NCAA’s decision.

“I am pleased that the NCAA is recognizing the important changes and reforms that the university has undertaken and will continue to make moving forward,” he said.

Cal handles Hawaii in Down Under opener

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 27:  Davis Webb #7 of the California Golden Bears signals to a team mate during the College Football Sydney Cup match between University of California and University of Hawaii at ANZ Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)
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The 2016 college football season started with… an onside kick. In his first game as Hawaii’s head coach, Nick Rolovich opened with a surprise, which Cal’s Patrick Laird alertly covered. Khalfani Muhammad raced in from 34 yards out just six plays later, and it was off to the races for the Bears.

Hawaii fought back to tie the game at 7-7 and again at 14-14 late in the first quarter, but the Bears closed the first half on a 20-0 run, keyed by a pair of Davis Webb touchdown tosses, to put the game away en route to a 51-31 win. Hawaii never pulled closer than 17 points in the second half.

Played at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, the game was the first-ever college contest played in Australia.

Webb dazzled in his Bears debut, hitting 38-of-54 throws for 441 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Chad Hansen was his top target, collecting 14 grabs for 160 yards and two of those scores. Muhammad, meanwhile, led the Bears’ ground game with 10 carries for 96 yards and a score.

Ikaika Woolsey led Hawaii with 234 passing yards and one touchdown.

Overall, Cal achieved 630 yards of total offense (30 first downs) on 7.1 yards per play, while allowing Hawaii to gain 6.7 yards per play and 482 total yards.

Cal takes next week off before a date with San Diego State, while Hawaii must turn around and prepare for a road trip to No. 7 Michigan on Saturday.

East Carolina DL booted after animal cruelty arrest

GREENVILLE, NC - SEPTEMBER 05:  A general view of the Appalachian State Mountaineers versus the East Carolina Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Greenville, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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East Carolina has dismissed defensive lineman Darius Commissiong following an arrest for animal cruelty, the program announced Friday.

A Facebook post from the Greenville (N.C.) police department say they responded to a call at an apartment 2 a.m. Friday after a report of a disturbance. They entered the home to find a one-year-old Shih Tzu deceased inside the residence.

According to the department’s Facebook post, the dog suffered “multiple hemorrhages to the skin and body,” three cracked ribs, a collapsed lung, hemorrhaging in the abdomen, left eye and brain, a liver “torn into pieces,” several fractured teeth and a complete fracture in the right hind leg. Witnesses pegged Commissiong as the perpetrator, and the 21-year-old was arrested on a felony charge of animal cruelty. He is held on a $25,000 bond.

 

“While we always want to be in a position to guide young people, unacceptable behavior such as this clearly crosses the line of humanity and simply will not be tolerated,” head coach Scottie Montgomery said in a statement. “There’s a level of accountability which defines our program, athletics department and East Carolina University, and any conduct which isn’t congruent with those values is unwelcome here.”

Commissioing’s arrest comes shortly on the heals of the surfacing of a video showing Baylor wide receiver Ish Zamora beating and kicking a dog, which was recorded earlier this summer. Zamora was not arrested and remains on Baylor’s roster.

Commissiong played in 10 games last season for the Pirates, collecting 10 tackles. He was a projected started along East Carolina’s defensive front before today’s dismissal.

Ahmad Bradshaw reverses course, set to start at QB for Army

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Jeff Monken of the Army Black Knights calls a timeout during the second half of their 17-10 loss to the Navy Midshipmen at M&T Bank Stadium on December 13, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Remember when Ahmad Bradshaw (not the former Giants and Colts running back) was set to leave West Point? Bradshaw changed his mind, and now he’s set to be the Black Knights’ starting quarterback.

Head coach Jeff Monken told the Times Herald-Record that Bradshaw was “likely” to start, but that both he and sophomore Chris Carter could see action.

Carter sustained a hamstring injury Aug. 1 and didn’t return to the practice field until Aug. 17.

“He’s (Bradshaw) so far ahead in the repetitions that he has taken,” Monken told the paper. “It’s hard when you miss the first couple weeks of camp. There’s 14 or 15 practices that you are standing there watching the other guys getting all of the reps.”

Bradshaw led Army last season with 429 passing yards and led Black Knights quarterbacks with 468 rushing yards last fall. Carter garnered a start against Navy last season and hit 9-of-15 passes for 208 yards with a touchdown and an interception in Army’s 21-17 loss.

“He’ll (Carter) come around and the more that he practices, the better he’s going to get and the more prepared he’s going to be,” Monken said. “That’s when I think we’ll see the battle and who the guy is that’s got to continue. Once you get playing, it’s hard to beat out the starter because he’s got more experience and has played more. I think Ahmad has handled it well.”

Army opens the season next Friday at Temple.

Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop officially named Oregon starting QB

EUGENE, OR -SEPTEMBER 06: A general view of Autzen Stadium during the second quarter of the game between the Oregon Ducks and the Michigan State Spartans at Autzen Stadium on September 6, 2014 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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As if there was any doubt, Dakota Prukop will start at quarterback for Oregon this year.

The Montana State transfer arrived in Eugene with the starting role as an understanding, but it was formally confirmed when the Ducks unveiled their depth chart Friday. He’ll start ahead of true freshman Justin Herbert.

Prukop will be the second straight FCS transfer to walk into a starting role at Oregon. Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams led the nation in passing efficiency in 10 games last season, hitting 65 percent of his throws for a national-best 10.2 yards per attempt with 26 touchdowns against six picks.

He was the second straight Duck signal caller to lead the nation in passing efficiency, following Marcus Mariota‘s Heisman campaign of 2014.

A native of Austin, Texas, Prukop earned First Team FCS All-America by the Associated Press last season and accumulated 7,347 yards of total offense and 70 total touchdowns.

No. 24 Oregon opens its season next Saturday against UC Davis (5 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks).