Bill O'Brien

NCAA to reduce scholarship sanctions on Penn State


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.

Report: Christian McCaffery back for Stanford vs. Colorado

PALO ALTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 02:  Christian McCaffrey #5 of the Stanford Cardinal runs with the ball against the Kansas State Wildcats at Stanford Stadium on September 2, 2016 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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If Stanford wants to exit Week 8 still entertaining (slim) hopes of repeating as Pac-12 North and conference champs, they’re almost certainly in must-win territory against Colorado today.  Getting their star running back back would certainly help, and it appears that’s what’s exactly going to happen.

In a tweet a short time ago, Bruce Feldman of reported that “Christian McCaffrey is expected back today” for the Buffs game.  Earlier in the week, McCaffrey’s return had been uncertain as he was extremely limited in practice.

In the third quarter of Stanford’s Week 6 loss to Washington State, McCaffrey sustained an unspecified injury that knocked him out for the remainder of the game. He was also sidelined for last Saturday’s win over Notre Dame.

A finalist for the 2015 Heisman Trophy, McCaffrey led the Cardinal in rushing (520 yards), rushing touchdowns (three), yards per carry (5.3), receptions (18), punt returns (8.0 average) and kick returns (22.8 average) prior to the injury that cost him back-to-back games.

His 188.2 all-purpose yards per game was third nationally, but he has not scored a touchdown since Week 2 and had just 84 rushing yards total the last two weeks pre-injury.

Lamar Jackson and Louisville dismantling NC State, 44-0 at halftime

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 17:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals  runs for a touchdown against the Florida State Seminoles  at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Louisville had a sluggish game last week against Duke, but the Cardinals are looking sharp this afternoon against North Carolina State, a week after the Wolfpack let an upset bid slip away at Clemson. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson has passed for 304 yards, rushed for 49 yards and scored three touchdowns in the first half as Louisville leads NC State 44-0 after one half.

This has been a mismatch from the start, with Louisville having more than a 300-yard advantage in total yards in the first half (390-52). The Wolfpack only managed two first downs in the half and turned the ball over three times as well. NC State quarterback Ryan Finley has been picked off twice. Jalan McClendon came in to replace Finley late in the first half, but McClendon’s first pass attempt was intercepted by Stacy Thomas, setting the Cardinals up at the 10-yard line. Jackson would add his third touchdown pass of the half moments later (after a holding penalty called off a Jackson touchdown run).

The way this is going, we may not see too much more of Jackson in the second half. With any luck, we’ll get a running clock in his place.

Kansas State dominating clock and Longhorns after one half

FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 03:  Head coach Charlie Strong of the Texas Longhorns looks on as the Longhorns prepare to take on the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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There is nothing particularly pretty about what Kansas State has done in the first half, which is typical of a team coached by Bill Snyder. Regardless, it has been more than effective enough against a Texas team that once again looks stale and lifeless. A pair of first-half touchdowns have given Kansas State a 21-7 lead at halftime against the Longhorns.

Jesse Ertz took for a 19-yard touchdown play on the opening possession fo the game for the Wildcats. Ertz accounted for both of Kansas State’s touchdowns in the half on the ground, and added a late touchdown pass for a 21-7 lead. Ertz has been given good protection and time to process what is happening on the field, which has led to a good amount of safe and efficient passing plays for Ertz and Kansas State.

Kansas State has also dominated the Longhorns in time of possession. The Wildcats have had just one possession lasting at least five minutes in the first half, not including the last offensive possession of the first half. On defense, the Wildcats are not allowing Texas to move the ball much, which has led to a small time of possession. That appeared to be playing right into Kansas State’s advantage until a late first-half possession by Texas resulted in a long touchdown. Shane Buechele uncorked an 80-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline with Devin Duvernay doing the honors with his speed most of the way. Kansas state has held the football for 23 minutes and 18 seconds, with 19 first downs.

Texas must do a better job of getting off the field on defense in the second half and start flipping the time of possession in their favor.

WMU prez talks possibility (probability?) of P.J. Fleck departing

CHAMPAIGN, IL - SEPTEMBER 17: Head coach P.J. Fleck of the Western Michigan Broncos celebrates after the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Champaign, Illinois. Western Michigan defeated Illinois 34-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Western Michigan will have a tough row to hoe — or boat to row, as the case may be — in retaining their outstanding young head coach, a possibility the university’s president has publicly acknowledged.

Outside of Houston’s Tom Herman, P.J. Fleck will likely be the hottest young commodity on the coaching carousel in the coming weeks — and rightly so.  WMU, at 7-0, is off to its best start since 1941, and ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in its history.

Fleck will undoubtedly have his share of suitors as the carousel picks up speed over the next month, and has already been mentioned as a possibility at Purdue.  During an interview earlier this week, WMU president John Dunn was seemingly resigned to losing the 35-year-old head coach to someone at some point in the not-too-distant future.

“Whatever ultimately happens we wish him (the best) as well as we’ll recover and move on,”  Dunn, who is set to retire in June of 2017, said according to “I think the commitments we’ve made to P.J., I think he appreciates deeply and he’ll be very thoughtful and he’ll be very fair.”

At $800,000 Fleck is already the highest-paid head coach in the MAC.  When speaking of bumping up that pay in an attempt to entice the coach to stay, Dunn responded that he’s “quite confident those conversations have occurred already.” That’s all well and good, but any Power Five program that chases Fleck would be able to triple or even quadruple what the coach is currently making or what he would be making with an enhanced package from WMU.

Dunn, then, is hoping the current situation appeals to Fleck’s non-monetary side.

“The idea that money is important, we never want to negate or argue against that, but there’s also a quality of life and a level of happiness,” said the president.

Nice try, Mr. President.  And prepare your goodbyes accordingly.